FULTON – Itawamba achieved both its goals Monday in its MACJC North Division fastpitch softball doubleheader sweep of rival Northeast.
By beating the Lady Tigers 3-2 and 5-2, the Lady Indians qualified for the Region 23 tournament and captured a program-best 30 victories.
“This is a great feeling,” said ICC centerfielder Rachel Tally, whose defensive gem in the opener helped the Indians’ cause. “We played together. We wanted it real bad and it showed.”
Tally ran down a potential run-producing fly ball at the fence by Northeast’s Samantha Yarber in the fifth inning.
Next up for ICC (30-13, 17-7) is the state tournament, scheduled to begin Friday at the South champion, likely Co-Lin. The Lady Indians are the No. 2 seed from the North.
Northeast (16-20, 13-11), if North leader Northwest at least splits with Holmes today, will also qualify as the No. 4 seed. If Holmes were to sweep the Rangers, a one-game playoff between Northeast and Holmes would have to be played for the fourth spot.
ICC needed some late-game heroics to reach its goals.
In the opener, Cyndal Cleveland’s eighth-inning single into the gap in left-center drove in the winning run.
“I just wanted to put the ball in the air,” she said. “I knew Brooke (Tedford) would score from third on a tag even if I flied out.”
With her team down 2-0 headed into the sixth inning, Northeast’s Emily Barnes opened with a solo home run off Indians starter Melissa Russell, who recorded 19 strikeouts in two games, including 13 in the opener. In the seventh, the Tigers used another long ball to force extra innings when Devin Reader belted a solo shot off Russell.
“One was a low rise ball that didn’t rise,” said ICC’s sophomore right-hander (17-3). “The other was a curve that rose too much. They smoked them.”
In the second game, Northeast took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the second before Tally tied the contest with a bunt single.
ICC’s next batter, slugging shortstop CeCee Austin, stepped out and ripped an outside offering from freshman left-hander Amy Blakeney over the fence for a three-run walk-off homer.
“They were trying to pitch it out,” said Austin, who added to her school-record total of 15 home runs. “I knew it was gone.”
Northeast coach Jody Long had called a pitchout for Austin, respecting her power.
Blakeney “didn’t get it out far enough,” he said. “She’s a 17-year-old freshman. We didn’t make a good pitch and (Austin) made us pay.”
ICC coach Chad Case added, “With CeCee at the plate, you can’t get it out there far enough. She gives you a chance every time she’s at the plate.”
Emily Barnes homered in the third inning for one of Northeast’s two runs in the frame. The other scored on a ground ball by Blakeney.
An RBI single by Gretta Burgett produced ICC’s lone run in the third.
Mandy Lindsey had an RBI single in the first game for ICC while Cleveland plated a run with a fielder’s choice grounder.
Gene Phelps/Daily Journal