ELLISVILLE, MS (WLOX) - Way back in August, Kenneth Long thought he had a great group on his Mississippi Gulf Coast softball team.
The 10th-ranked Lady Bulldogs proved that intuition right Sunday in Ellisville, winning the 2015 MACJC state softball championship over No. 11 East Central, exploding for six runs in the fifth inning of a 9-3 victory.
“Everybody that wins multiple state championships says this one is better than the last one, but I'll be perfectly honest with you, this one is really special,” Long said. “From the first time we met in August, our first team meeting, coach Christie Meeks and I said together this one was special.”
Gulf Coast (41-10), which claimed its first state title since 2007, rolled through the tournament undefeated and has won 12 straight headed to the Region 23 Tournament. It starts Thursday back at Ellisville.
East Central (39-10) will join the Lady Bulldogs, along with No. 1 LSU-Eunice and host Jones County, which is ranked second.
Gulf Coast broke a 3-3 tie with the big fifth inning. Brittany Cooley's bases-loaded single made it 4-3, and Deborah Elmore drove in two with a double.
Britney Butler added an RBI single, and Reagan Prentiss followed with a two-run home run to center. It was her second-ever home run, even including high school, and both have come in this postseason.
Prentiss credited extra sprints and batting practice for the power boost, but said this newfound power comes mainly from one place.
“My heart,” she said.
Kaitlin Lee, who sustained frightening facial injuries on the same field in March, pitched a complete game. She eased her way to victory after getting the cushion, improving to 16-3 on the season.
“It was so relieving,” Lee said. “I could actually breathe and I lost all that anxiety.”
Gulf Coast had taken a quick lead in the first when Hannah Melendrez belted a three-run homer. She got a 0-2 pitch and hit it over the center-field wall.
“Winning state means we are the happiest people on earth right now,” said Melendrez, who leads the team with 12 homers. “We want to keep winning. We want to go to region and kick butt there. We want to keep going until we get the big ring on our finger.”
East Central nearly put a damper on those aspirations, though. The Lady Warriors scored twice in the second, and tied it up in the bottom of the fourth.
The teams had played an epic 13-inning winner-bracket game Saturday night, and it started to feel like déjà vu.
“I don't know if I could have played another 13-inning game,” said Williams.