By David Wheeler
This corner of Mississippi has long hosted quality regional sporting events.
Perhaps one of the hidden gems of that history is the Northeast TigerFest junior college softball tournament, which gets underway today at Booneville City Park.
“I think we have a great field as always,” said Northeast head coach Jody Long, who has been involved in all 17 of the tournaments. “Top to bottom, we always seem to have teams that end up in the national tournament.
“We have teams from the North coming down early to practice here, and it might be their first time on a field this season. The northern teams come hunting me, and have helped turn this into one of the best events in the southeast.”
Now in his 12th season as head coach, Long has steadfastly put in the effort to draw a quality variety of junior college talent to Booneville for the event. The two-day TigerFest will run on three fields at Booneville City Park, with first-pitch today on all fields at 11 a.m., and at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
The event routinely draws from within Mississippi, with Northeast, Itawamba, and Northwest on the schedule this year.
“This is the type of competition you would see if you made the national tournament,” said Itawamba head coach Andy Kirk, whose Lady Indians began the season ranked No. 8 in the nation in the NJCAA Division II poll. “Last year, we got a lot of confidence getting ready for our league play with how we did in this tournament.
“It’s always a challenge to play in this event, and you have got to match the enthusiasm of the northern teams that come here to play. It’s important for us to be able to play teams from outside our area.”
Spanning the globe
A total of six states are represented in the TigerFest, which has 15 games scheduled for each of the two days. NJCAA Division I teams are included from Missouri and Illinois, as well as the club team from Arkansas State, which features many former junior college players.