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Fastpitch softball playoffs begin Sat.

The stage is set for the girls fastpitch softball stateplayoffs. Several area teams have qualified so local interest willincrease with each successful round.

In Lincoln County, Brookhaven, Loyd Star, Bogue Chitto and WestLincoln have qualified. In the area, Wesson, Lawrence County andNorth Pike are in the hunt. It’s a best-of-three format, with thedivision champion hosting the first two games Saturday.

This is the first year for the Mississippi High SchoolActivities Association to divide the Class 1A/2A fastpitch field.That’s good news for Loyd Star, Bogue Chitto and West Lincoln.

Loyd Star, coached by Jan Delaughter; and Bogue Chitto, coachedby Scott Leggett, will be at home for Saturday’s opening round. TheLady Hornets host Enterprise-Clarke in 2A action and Bogue Chittohosts Greenville St. Joseph, starting at 1 p.m.

West Lincoln, coached by Andrew Redd, makes the long bus ride toEast Webster in Maben for the opening round. The Lady Bears lost aheart-breaker to Bogue Chitto Tuesday night in a Division 7-1Afirst place showdown.

Ole Brook’s Lady Panthers, runners-up to Lawrence County in theDivision 6-4A race, must take a long trip to Long Beach forSaturday’s playoff opener. If they split the twinbill and force athird game, it would be played next Tuesday on Martin Field.

Coach Beronica Stringfellow’s Lawrence County Lady Cougars hostPoplarville in a 4A contest. The Lady Cougars were division champsin 2003 and 2004.

Wesson, coached by Ricky Gunter, runner-up to Loyd Star in theDivision 6-2A race, plays at Clarkdale Saturday.

North Pike, under the direction of Bogue Chitto native SonyaWallace, hosts Division 5-3A runner-up Southeast LauderdaleSaturday. The best-of-three series starts at 1 p.m.

The state baseball playoffs begin next Thursday, April 20. In adifferent format, the top four teams out of each division advanceto the state playoffs. Division champions host a regional,featuring the No. 3 team out of that division, plus the No. 2 andNo. 4 teams from another division. It also is a best-of-threeseries.

For sure, the cream will start rising to the top.

Bicycle racing enthusiasts should begin tightening their spokesand preparing for next weekend’s 5th Annual Human PerformanceCenter Mississippi Grand Prix Bike Races. Cyclists from across theSouth will converge on Brookhaven for a weekend of fast-pacedactivity.

It all begins Friday night, April 21, with a criterium race indowntown Brookhaven for Category 1-2-3 riders. It will start at 7p.m.

On Saturday, the grueling road race starts at 9:30 a.m. atHeucks Retreat Baptist Church. There are different levels ofcompetition, including a novice level. The road race, for men andwomen, covers 60-70 miles.

There will be a Saturday afternoon time trial, starting at 5:30.It will begin at Union Hall Baptist Church on Nola Road. On Sunday,a larger criterium will be held on the Copiah-Lincoln CommunityCollege campus area.

Brookhaven’s Frank Moak, captain of the Herring Gas racing team,has been instrumental in bringing the races to Lincoln County. Moakhas won four individual races this season and he was runner-up in alarge Jackson race.

In case you missed it, Monroe (N.Y.) Community College won theNJCAA National Women’s Basketball Tournament in Salina, Kan. Monroedefeated Odessa, Texas 74-66 in the title game.

Northeast, representing Mississippi after winning the Region 23Tournament, fared poorly in the nationals. After plowing through alate winter blizzard to reach Salina, the Lady Tigers were trounced123-64 by powerhouse Trinity Valley of Dallas, Texas. It was atournament record for points scored.

Northeast was eliminated 81-64 by Ft. Smith (Ark.) in theconsolation bracket and headed back to Booneville for springvacation. Coach Ricky Ford’s team had eluded Co-Lin 74-73 in theregional championship game.

Ford had some good players but not nearly enough talent tocompete on the national level. He needed some powerful 6-2 and 6-4post players to survive.

Several of the teams in the NJCAA national tourney could beatmany of the NCAA’s Division I teams on a given night. Manyinternational players showcase their skills in Salina’sBicentennial Center and sign senior college scholarships.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.Box 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com