OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - St. Martin softball head coach Joe Rankin was absent from Monday's practice due to illness, but that didn't stop the Yellow Jackets from preparing for perhaps its most anticipated matchup this season.
In this weekend's game one of the 6A south state championship, St. Martin will face the Harrison Central Red Rebelettes -- a team that's eliminated them in each of the past two postseason runs.
The Jackets got to this point after losing Friday's game one of a best-of-three series with Brandon, 6-5, before winning the final two games of the series by scores of 7-6 and 5-2.
"We really don't want our season to end," senior shortstop Alyssa Hardy said. "So for the seniors, it was good because we really want to go to state and not just (the south state championship)."
Alyssa and her twin sister, Courtney, are a part of the gulf coast's version of the Fab Five. Those two, along with Jhadia Harris, Lauren Walker and Chelsea Groue, have been playing together since middle school and are the only five seniors on this year's team.
"Coming off this weekend, we had that first loss but we pulled together as a team and won back-to-back games," Harris said. "It was really great. We stick together no matter what. We always have each other's backs. It's a great thing with it finally being our senior year."
The Achilles' heel for St. Martin in each of the past couple seasons has been Harrison Central. The Red Rebelettes defeated Oak Grove 14-4 in game three Saturday to advance in the playoffs.
Despite the recent success against St. Martin over the last two playoff meetings, head coach Jimmy Parker and the Red Rebelettes know they need to be on the top of their game to beat St. Martin once again.
"Nobody thought that we'd come this far except for us," Harrison Central senior pitcher Kim Gilbert said. "We believed in ourselves. At the beginning of the season, we knew we had to work really hard to be where we were. We knew every team wanted to beat us."
One of the reasons Harrison Central could've had a down year was because of the loss of four seniors. Gilbert, who is committed to play softball at William Carey, is one of two Red Rebelette seniors on this year's squad along with Delta State commit Kaitlin Lee. That meant underclassmen like sophomore Madison Burge was counted upon to pick up the slack.
"My teammates behind me on defense help me with my confidence," Burge said. "I know that if I miss a pitch, and they hit it well, that I have a defense that can get them out."
Game one of the best-of-three series between St. Martin and Harrison Central is set for Fri., May 9, at the home of the Red Rebelettes. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.