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Avant, Vance pitch No. 2 MGCCC to sweep

PERKINSTON — In a day with mind-boggling offensive numbers, it was two key pitching performances that helped No. 2 Mississippi Gulf Coast stay unbeaten in MACCC play with a sweep over East Central.

The Bulldogs (14-6, 10-0 MACCC) rallied to tie or takes leads after two different seven-run deficits in a 19-18 win in the opener, with Kristian Jones’ grand slam winning it after Anna Avant pitched 4.2 innings of two-run ball. Abby Vance struck out nine in a complete-game 7-6 win in the nightcap.

“We know we can come back; we know we can score runs,” Gulf Coast coach Kenneth Long said. “We just had to get the pitching stabilized.”

Avant (So., Water Valley/Water Valley) came in with the Bulldogs down 16-9 in the third inning. She got a groundout to end the inning, then saw Gulf Coast score four in the bottom of the inning on an RBI double by Alexis Laughlin (So., Hurley/East Central) and a second home run of the game by Rakeya Travis (So., Poplarville/Poplarville).

Avant put the first zero on the board either team had managed before Kristian Jones (Fr., Southaven/DeSoto Central) hit a two-run homer to second to pull the Bulldogs within 16-15.

East Central (4-16, 3-9) added a two-run homer in the fifth, and that set up more fireworks by Jones.

“I’m not gonna lie and say I wasn’t nervous, but I know everybody on this team has each other’s back,” she said. “No matter what the score it, no matter how down we are, I knew we would put some fight into it like we always do.”

She launched a two-out grand slam for a 19-15 lead that Avant made stand up.

Gulf Coast scored in every inning but the sixth, and eight of nine starters had hits. The 3-4-5 batters combined for five home runs and 15 RBI, with K.K. Agner (Fr., Horn Lake/Magnolia Heights) getting a three-run homer of her own.

“That’s an awesome thing to have in the middle part of the lineup because they can’t pitch around anybody. They hit the ball so well and so hard. They did a great job.”

Avant scattered six hits while striking out three and allowing the two runs.

Gulf Coast turned to Vance (Fr., Calhoun City/Calhoun City) in the second game, and she delivered. Big time.

She allowed just five hits while getting the five strikeouts.

“I was just trying to go in there and spin the ball really well,” she said. “I knew I’ve got a really good curveball and if I did what I knew I could do, they wouldn’t be able to hit it.”

Agner got another homer, a grand slam of her own to make it 6-1 during a five-run fourth. Sarah Brannan (So., Enterprise/Enterprise) got her first collegiate homer in the fifth, and it proved to be a vital insurance run.

East Central got a run in the sixth, then took advantage of two walks and a hit batsman on the way to trimming the deficit to one.

Vance, however, struck out the final batter to set off a high-octane celebration.

“Abby gave us some innings and pitched well for us,” Long said. “She got in a little trouble at the end, but I’m so thankful she finished it. She’s a good young pitcher who gave us a complete game, and that’s what we needed.”

Gulf Coast travels Friday to Clarksdale for a Saturday doubleheader at Coahoma. First pitch is set for noon.

For more information on MGCCC’s 10 intercollegiate athletic teams, follow @MGCCCBulldogs on Twitter and MGCCCBulldogs on Facebook, and go to mgcccbulldogs.com.