CLINTON – Jones County Junior College had finished runnerup three times in the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.
But the fourth time was the charm for the Lady Bobcats.
JCJC crushed Phoenix College (Arizona) 18-2 in the championship game here Saturday afternoon at Traceway Park.
Not only was it JCJC’s first national title in fast-pitch softball, it was also the first national title in the sport for an MACJC school.
“I’m so happy for our kids, our program, our school and our administration,” said ninth-year head coach Chris Robinson, who has guided JCJC to six national tournament appearances in seven years. “When we started back in August, I said if they bought in, we would have a chance to play on the third Saturday in May and they lived up to it.
“I’m very thankful for those 18 kids and our three coaches.”
Click on the link to see Coach Robinson’s full post-game interview along with video highlights from the game: https://youtu.be/uQY1MT8dkp4
JCJC was oh so close winning it all last year, but they dropped an 8-7 heartbreaker to LSU-Eunice in the championship game.
Robinson said the sophomores on this year’s team remembered that.
“They were here last year in this game and got beat on a walk-off squeeze bunt,” he said. “For them to come in there this week and seize this moment – it’s all them. Just a fantastic job by our players and coaches.”
JCJC started off the season 33-1 but hit a bump in the road when they were swept at home by Itawamba on April 8.
They would not lose again, running off 21 straight victories, claiming their third straight MACJC and Region 23 titles, a national championship and ending up with a 54-3 record.
They dominated the national tournament, outscoring their opponents, 69-12, and belting 15 home runs in five games.
“What was strange about this year was that we started out really good in February and March,” Robinson said. “After spring break, we struggled offensively. We could not find our rhythm.
“But when we started postseason, we started pitching and playing great defense and we really swung the sticks well. I don’t know what it was, but they were really jacked up this week.”
Sophomore centerfielder Kelsha Loftin (Mendenhall) had quite a week, capped off by a tremendous performance in the title game where she was 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double, a single and six RBIs and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“To finally do it, it just feels amazing because we work so hard each and every day,” she said. “I’m just overwhelmed. It was a whole team effort. We just feed off of each other and when one person gets a hit, the next one wants to.”
Loftin is also pleased to be a member of the first national championship team led by Robinson.
“It means the world to him,” she said. “He has worked hard and for him to finally win it I am so happy and proud that I could be on the first team for him to do it.”
Winning pitcher Karli Perque (Westwego, Louisiana) said being runnerup last year was a motivating factor.
“The amount of time and all of the hard work we put in to get here finally paid off,” she said. “We got here last year and we got short, but we came through this year. We did this for everybody back home.
“We did not want to feel bad again and we wanted to go all the way this year. We came out this year and did what we had to do. It was an all-team effort.”
Perque and Madison Burge (Harrison Central) were named to the All-Battery Team for the tournament, while shortstop Taylor Murray (Parklane Academy) was named Most Valuable Defensive Player. Third baseman Emily Robinson (Lafayette) was named All-Tournament Infield and Loftin was named All-Tournament Outfield. Chris Robinson was named Coach of the Tournament.
As far as the game itself, the suspense was over early.
JCJC sent 11 batters to the plate and scored seven runs in the bottom of the first inning.
Loftin led off with a bunt single and consecutive walks were issued to Murray, Robinson and Callie Venable (Clinton, Louisiana) to force in a run. Hallie Donald (Mooreville) followed with a two-run double. McKennah Sikes (Van Buren, Arkansas) walked and Gracie McCleskey (Caledonia) was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Lofton then doubled to center to clear the bases and give Jones a 7-0 lead.
The Lady Bobcats went up 10-0 in the second.
Robinson led off with a double and Donald walked. Robinson stole third and scored on a throwing error. Sikes then blasted a two-run home run.
Loftin led off the bottom of the third with a home run into a grill beyond the leftfield fence to make it 11-0.
The Bears got on the board in the fourth when Tylor Gil walked and Cherish Paolinelli doubled her home.
The Lady Bobcats then ran the lead to 17-1 in the bottom of the fourth.
Donald walked to start the inning and Sikes blasted her fourth home run of the tournament to make it 13-1. Faith Denton (Northwest Rankin) was then hit by a pitch, McCleskey doubled and Simone McKinney (Harrison Central) followed with an RBI single. McCleskey would score on an error and Loftin followed with a two-run home run to right into a tent.
Phoenix scored its final run in the fifth when Kara Golden was hit by a pitch, McKenzie Whitten singled and Heather O’Kelly reached on a bunt single. Kaitlyn Dennis would hit into a fielder’s choice, which scored Whitten.
The Lady Bobcats final run came in the sixth when Murray singled and Venable doubled her home.
Perque went the first four innings, gave up an unearned run, three hits, walked two and struck out three. She got the win to end the year at 24-2.
Donald pitched two innings, allowed one run and two hits. Burge pitched the final inning and retired all three batters she faced.
After Loftin’s performance, Jones got two home runs and four RBIs from Sikes, a double and a single from Emily Robinson, doubles from Venable, Donald and McCleskey and singles from Murray and McKinney.
O’Kelly had two singles for the Bears with Paolinelli getting a double. Whitten and Haley Johnston added singles.
Hanna Krosky started and took the loss. She faced six batters and did not retire a Lady Bobcat. She allowed six runs, two hits and walked four. Kiana Carr pitched six innings, allowed 12 runs, 11 hits, walked six and struck out seven.
Phoenix ends the year at 52-9.
(Article written by Shawn Wansley/JCJC Sports Information Director)