Gulf Coast wins big in NJCAA opener

Published 11:00 am Thursday, May 27, 2021

OXFORD, Ala. — Mississippi Gulf Coast asserted its dominance early in the opening round of the NJCAA Division II Softball Tournament, doubling the home run output of the other 15 teams combined on the way to an 11-2 win over Triton in five innings.

Kristian Jones (Fr., Southaven/DeSoto Central) hit a three-run blast in a six-run first, and Rakeya Travis (So., Poplarville/Poplarville) added a two-run shot the next inning.

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“It’s not surprising,” Gulf Coast coach Kenneth Long said. “Those two kids have done it all year. They just stepped up here. We were ready to play early, and they hit those home runs and got us going. I’m not surprised at all.”

Seventh-seeded Gulf Coast (34-14) advances in the winners’ bracket to play a familiar foe. No. 2 seed Jones (44-7) beat Delaware Tech 9-0 in five innings, setting up another Bulldogs-Bobcats showdown at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Right fielder Sarah Brannan (So., Enterprise/Enterprise) set the tone defensively in the top of the first, throwing out a runner at the plate for the third out.

Jones ignited the rout with her first swing of the bat. After the two batters ahead of her reached on a walk and a hit-by-pitch, she parked one over the center-field fence. That matched her output from the previous night’s Home Run Derby.

“It was just warmup,” she said. “It felt really good doing that in my first at-bat.”

Whitley Tanner (Fr., Hurley/East Central) had an RBI groundout, and Sarah Brannan (So., Enterprise/Enterprise) singled in two more runs.

Tanner got hit by a pitch to drive in a run to make it 9-2 in the fourth, and Brannan doubled in two more runs right behind her for the final margin.

Anna Avant (So., Water Valley/Water Valley) struck out three and allowed four hits in her complete game. She’s 2-2 on the season, with both wins coming in the postseason.

“They were messed up by my changeup,” she said. “The offspeed kind of got them, and it’s got a little drop to it. I don’t think they were quite ready for it.”

Wednesday’s clash against Jones is a critical one. The winner avoids the losers’ bracket, while the loser has to turn around and play against at 8 p.m.

The Bulldogs and Bobcats split their regular-season doubleheader, but Jones has won twice in the postseason.

“It’s nothing new (facing Jones),” Travis said. “It’ll be about who wants it more, who shows the most grit. It’s time for some revenge.”

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