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Three heroes win it for Gulf Coast

EUNICE, La. — It was a night made for heroes, and the No. 9 Mississippi Gulf Coast got carried into the winners’ bracket of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament by three heroic efforts in different phases of the game.

Alexis Laughlin (So., Hurley/East Central) scored on a foul sacrifice fly pop-up less than 30 feet from home plate to force extra innings, Briana Shores (So., Richland/Richland) cranked a leadoff home run in the top of the 10th inning, and Anna Avant (So., Water Valley/Water Valley) polished off a spectacular relief pitching performance with her sixth full inning of shutout pitching to beat the hosts, No. 15 LSU Eunice, 7-6.

“I think it’s giving us so much momentum,” Avant said. “We wanted this win so bad. I don’t even know how many innings we played, because I was just trying to keep focusing on pitching. We’re riding high right now. We’re going to be pretty pumped going into tomorrow.”

The Bulldogs play No. 8 Copiah-Lincoln at 6 p.m. Friday in the final game of Day 2. LSU Eunice plays at noon against Northwest Mississippi, which lost 5-0 to No. 2 Jones. Co-Lin needed extra innings in the first game to beat No. 5 Itawamba 4-3.

Gulf Coast blew a five-run, first-inning lead to set up another classic comeback this season. Avant entered with runners at second and third with one out in the fourth inning of a 5-5 game. She gave up a sacrifice fly that broke the tie, but got a groundout to minimize the damage.

“I feel like every time I come in, it’s been in a situation like that,” she said. “I’ve ben trying to mentally prepare for those situations and just trust my defense behind me. Getting those two outs set the tone.”

She would go on to spin a masterful 6.2-inning performance, blanking the Bengals on just three hits, with five strikeouts and a walk.

The game went into the seventh inning with the same score, and Laughlin and Caroline Moore (So., Maryville, Tenn/Maryville) led off with singles. After a bunt and a walk, K.K. Agner (Fr., Horn Lake/Magnolia Heights) lofted a foul ball back to the screen near the Bulldogs bench. The catch made the catch running into the screen, which had some give. Laughlin, who had three hits, caught LSU Eunice unaware and took the opportunity to scamper home.

“Boo had a really, really good baserunning deal to score on that tag-up deal,” Gulf Coast coach Kenneth Long said. “That was a heads up play to score.”

It was Agner’s second RBI of the game.

Avant kept putting up zeroes, punching out two batters looking to start the eighth, and stranding a two-out double in the ninth. She attacked the corner with her curveball, taking what was given her.

“She spun the ball today,” said Shores, who was catching her. “They couldn’t get on top of it, they couldn’t get under it, they couldn’t hit it. That ball was spinning, and the umpire was giving us good pitchers.”

Shores took a big hack at a 3-1 pitch, then turned around the next one she saw over the left-field wall.

Despite having not hit a home run since March 8, she had a positive approach in a huge situation.

“I was confident, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “It was time for me to get a hit like that, especially a home run. I knew our defense could get three outs. I just had a lot of confidence.”

Avant retired the side in order in the bottom of the frame, fielding a little dribbler perfectly to get the final out and spark a glove-throwing celebration.

“Man, she had so much confidence,” Long said. “She came in in a bad situation, a bad spot, held it right there. She got a couple innings behind here, and the team started coming in behind her and playing ball. She was the MVP; I had told her she was legit.”

Whitley Tanner (Fr., Hurley/East Central) had a two-run single in the five-run first that was helped by a Bengals error. Gulf Coast chased LSU Eunice starter Cendall Barton before she recorded her second out, but reliever Kinsley Ashworth shut out the Bulldogs until the seventh.

2021 NJCAA Region 23 Softball Tournament Centralhttps://athletics.lsue.edu/news/2021/5/8/2021softballregion23.aspx

NJCAA Region 23 Softball Tournament

May 13-16

Eunice, La.

Thursday, May 13

Game 1: (4) Copiah-Lincoln 4, (3) Itawamba 3 (8 inn.)

Game 2: (1) Jones 5, (6) Northwest Mississippi 0

Game 3: (5) Gulf Coast 7, (2) LSU Eunice 6 (10 inn.)

Friday, May 14

Game 4: Northwest vs. LSU Eunice, 12:00 pm

Game 5: Jones vs. Itawamba, 3:00 pm

Game 6: Copiah-Lincoln vs. Gulf Coast, 6:00 pm

*Saturday, May 15

Game 7: Winner Game 4 vs. Loser Game 6, 12:00 pm

Game 8: Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 3:00 pm

Game 9: Winner Game 7 vs. Loser Game 8, 6:00 pm

**Sunday, May 16

Game 10/11: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 9, 12:00 pm

(If-Necessary Game Would Be Sunday, 3:00 pm)

*If Five Teams Remain After Game Six (Friday)

Saturday, May 15

Game 7: Loser Game 5 vs. Loser Game 6, 12:00 pm

Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 3:00 pm

Game 9: Winner Game 6 vs. Winner Game 7, 6:00 pm

Sunday, May 16

Game 10/11: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 9, 12:00 pm

(If-Necessary Game Would Be Sunday, 3:00 pm)

**If Three Teams Remain After Game Nine (Friday’s Action)

Sunday, May 16

Game 10: Winner Game 8 vs. Loser Game 9, 12:00 pm

Game 11: Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 10, 3:00 pm

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