PERKINSTON, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College's softball team has already played 51 games this season, but their sixth game against No. 2 Jones County this season will be a first for Lady Bulldogs head coach Kenneth Long.
It'll be his first game on the diamond since he was named MACJC Coach of the Year for MGCCC (41-10), which has won 12 straight games and will take part in the Region 23 Tournament beginning this Thursday.
The Lady Bulldogs will also look to earn a national tournament berth, but they need another win over Jones County (40-4), which won all four games in the regular season against Gulf Coast.
While MGCCC may not have beaten the Lady Bobcats in the regular season, they did earn a 3-2 win over JCJC in the MACJC tournament before eventually earning the state title with two wins over East Central.
"We need to know that they're coming back for revenge and not to take them lightly because we beat them one time," sophomore Catelyn Williams said. "I don't feel like we're going to. We're going to come back strong again."
Williams, who has a hit in six straight games, cranked her first home run of the season in the Lady Bulldogs' opening playoff series with Itawamba.
Sophomore Kam Theriot is another one of the offensive leaders for the No. 10 Lady Bulldogs. Not only does she have a .374 batting average, but she has arguably the best patience at the plate. Theriot has 31 walks compared to only four strikeouts in 191 plate appearances.
"I guess you could say I'm pretty focused," Theriot said. "Usually when we get on the bus, all I think about is how we're going to win the game and what I can do to help the team in the best way possible."
While she hasn't recorded a hit in the last three games, she has found a way to reach base in each of the past seven contests.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the extended winning streak is freshman pitcher Kaitlin Lee. The former Harrison Central Red Rebelette is not only hitting .377 and tied for the team lead with six stolen bases, but she leads the team with 117.0 innings pitched.
During the team's current 12-game winning streak, Lee has earned the win in each of the past five games.
Prior to the individual streak, her last win was March 27 -- a span of 13 games.
The reason wasn't because Lee was pitching badly, but because she suffered a severe injury to her right eye after being hit by a pitch March 30 in the team's 7-4 loss to Jones County.
Coach Long thought about keeping Lee out of the lineup Thursday from a mental standpoint, but Lee was having none of it. Yes, the Lady Bulldogs and Lady Bobcats meet for the first time in Ellisville since that day, but there's no way even a serious injury like that would keep her out of one of the biggest games of the year for her team.
"I didn't lose consciousness or anything and I felt like I was going to be okay," Lee said. "But everyone came up and started praying for me. I started asking, 'Am I dying?' I didn't know what was going on. I remembered everything that happened. I was scared for when I was going to play again. That's all I was worried about."
"She told us the next day that she was going to be back for the state tournament," Williams said. "When she told us that, we knew she was going to come back strong and bounce back."
Lee was taken to a local hospital to have surgery on her right eye and ended up missing 10 games before returning April 24 in her team's 6-3 win over Itawamba.
Two games after that, MGCCC picked up that first win over JCJC this season.
"I don't think they realized that Kait was going to be back on the mound," Theriot said. "I think that threw them off a lot."
If Gulf Coast can earn a second win over Jones County in 2015, they will earn a spot in the JUCO national tournament next week.
"I want to win the regional tournament and I believe that we will win the regional tournament," Lee said. "To get there, we just have to keep our momentum going from the state tournament and not settle for it."