The Southwest Mississippi Community College softball team entered Sunday already knowing that it had a spot in the playoffs and it was key not to look past the Itawamba Indians in the regular season finale.
And even though they struggled losing Game 1 11-3, the Bears battled back, securing a 6-2 win in Game 2 to not only split with the No. 6 Junior College Team in Division II but also to build some confidence heading into the postseason.
The win ties a season high in conference victories for the Bears at 16.
“Anytime you can finish the season at home with a win, it is good,” said SMCC head coach Shea Johnson following the Game 2 win. “I thought that we played well. I’m proud of the fight in the kids. The bats really cam alive.”
While the Bears (29-14, 16-12) finished the day strong, they came out struggling in Game 1. They grabbed an early lead in the bottom of the first following an RBI single by Carrington Jefcoat and a sacrifice fly by Madison Gower to jump ahead 2-0.
But the Indians (33-12-1, 23-5) answered back in the top of the second, plating nine runs to take a commanding lead over SMCC.
Itawamba added two more the following inning, increasing its advantage to 11-2.
SMCC tried to battle back. But the Bears were shut down in order in both the third and fourth innings.
In the fifth, the Bears went on a rally. With two outs, they loaded the bases following a walk to Tia Bussey, a single by Josey Nations and Jordan McNabb being hit by a pitch.
Bussey later touched home on a passed ball to make the score 11-3 but SMCC was shut down, preserving the win for the Indians in Game 1.
In Game 2 it was Itawamba who struck first with a pair of runs in the first inning. However, SMCC pulled even in the bottom half of the inning following an RBI single by Jade Latham and a bases loaded walk by Madison Gower.
The following inning, the Bears took the lead at 3-2 when Nations doubled, then was brought home by ensuing batter Jordan McNabb, who hit a double of her own.
Latham, who got the start on the mound, ran into some trouble in the third when the Indians loaded the bases following a hit batsman and a pair of walks.
But the freshman regained her composure, forcing the next two Itawamba batters into an infield popup and a ground out.
She helped her own cause as the leadoff batter in the bottom half of the inning, launching a solo home run to left, increasing the Bear lead to 4-2.
“The whole day, I felt like I was going to hit a home run,” she said. “I just had the feeling like it was about to happen. I felt due for a home run.”
Despite the Indians getting a pair of runners on in both the fourth and fifth innings, Latham prevented any additional Itawamba runs from crossing the plate.
She got some additional help in the bottom of the sixth when pinch hitter Bailey Sartin singled and was replaced by pinch runner Terrah Nelson. Two batters later, Nelson touched home when Nations homered to left-center, giving SMCC the 6-2 lead.
“I felt kind of loose, I felt it was going to come my way,” said Nations, who went 2-for-4 with a home run, two runs scored and two RBIs. “I felt like I was going to hit a home run.”
Latham shut down three of the final four batters to give the Bears the win in the regular season finale.
Next up, the Bears and the Indians will meet again Wednesday to open postseason play for both teams. Johnson believes the win in Game 2 Sunday provides a big boost for his ladies.
“I feel like we are playing well,” he said. “I like our chances.”