Co-Lin plays for national title on Saturday morning in South Carolina

Published 11:58 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

Copiah-Lincoln Community College is playing for a national championship in softball on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. CST, 10 a.m. EST against Jones College in the final game of the 2023 NJCAA Division II National Tournament in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

What it took to make the above sentence reality on Friday night is the stuff that will go down in Co-Lin lore.

On Friday morning, Co-Lin and Jones met in the semifinals as the two teams left with unblemished records in a field that started on Tuesday with 16 teams.

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Co-Lin had knocked off the previously unbeaten team from Murray State (Oklahoma) on Thursday in the quarterfinals by a 2-1 final score. Murray State was 58-0 coming into the game and was the no. 1 seed in the tournament.

In the other quarterfinal on Thursday, Jones had little trouble with the no. 2 seeded team from Louisburg College (North Carolina), winning that game 6-2.

Co-Lin and Jones had been the best two teams throughout the MACCC regular season. The Wolves swept the Bobcats in their lone regular season meeting by winning both games in Wesson.

In the Region 23 Tournament hosted by Jones, the Bobcats beat Co-Lin in the semifinals, before Co-Lin got back-to-back wins to claim the region title.

Co-Lin (48-10) came into the national tournament as the no. 5 seed and Jones (50-9) was seeded no. 6 in the field.

In the winners’ bracket showdown on Friday morning, Co-Lin led 1-0 after one inning and 2-1 until the top of the fifth, when Jones tied the game at 2-2.

CLCC then led 3-2 heading into the final Jones at-bat of the game, only to see JC get three runs in that half inning in an eventual 5-3 win for the Bobcats.

Freshman pitcher Cara Biswell had pitched Co-Lin to wins over Lansing (Michigan) on Tuesday, Parkland (Illinois) on Wednesday and Murray State on Thursday.

With Biswell pitching most of the loss to Jones on Friday morning, Co-Lin head coach Meleah Howard had to lean on her staff to get through the rest of the day as the Wolves were seeking to battle out of the loser’s bracket.

The second game of Friday for Co-Lin was against Des Moines Area Community College (Iowa) in an elimination game.

A six-run second inning was a shot of adrenaline for the Co-Lin bats in an eventual 10-3 win over the Bears.

The pitching staff rose to the occasion as sophomore Belle West scattered six hits, struck out four, walked one and gave up one earned run in five innings. Freshman Laney Waguespack came in as relief and pitched two innings of no-hit ball to finish off the game.

That set up a second CLCC versus Jones matchup of the day. A win by Jones would give the school its second national championship in softball. A win by Co-Lin would extend the tournament to one more day to a winner-take-all matchup on Saturday morning.

When you’re playing a team for the second time that day and the seventh time this season, the word familiar feels too puny to describe how well each side knows one another.

Furthermore, the best way to describe the ebbs and flows of this particular game would be to dip into a bag of cliches and call it an old-fashioned slugfest.

Jones led 2-0 and Co-Lin responded to tie it at 2-2.

Jones led 4-2 and Co-Lin responded to tie the game again.

Jones led 5-4 and you know what happened, right? Co-Lin tiedthe game 5-5 in the top of the seventh inning to send things to an extra inning.

The biggest bats in the Co-Lin lineup were due up at the plate in the top of the eighth and that’s when the flood gates opened for the CLCC offense.

Sophomore Maddie Weeks, a Southern Miss signee, started the inning with a double.

Jones decided to intentionally walk Co-Lin freshman Abby Grace Richardson with no outs.

Richardson had already homered twice in the game and was responsible for driving in four of the five Co-Lin runs thus far.

The Daily Leader All-Area MVP as a senior at Brookhaven Academy, Richardson had become the all-time single season home run leader for Co-Lin softball with a bomb against Des Moines. She’s now hit 23 home runs this season after the pair against Jones.

With Weeks on second and Richardson on first, West stepped to the plate. West plays in the outfield when she’s not pitching, and she’s come up with some key hits late in the season for the Wolves.

On the broadcast of the game, you could see West talking with Howard in the on-deck circle as Jones took a timeout to talk strategy.

West and Howard parted with both smiling and one wonders if Howard ended that conversation with, “go hit a home run.”

Whether she said it or not, that’s exactly what happened as the Belhaven signee and Hillcrest Chrisitan alum blasted a three-run shot that put Co-Lin up 8-5.

After that, it was all over but the shouting as Co-Lin padded that lead with a couple more runs in the eventual 10-5 win to set up the Saturday morning finale.

Sophomore pitcher Lila Blackburn was instrumental in Co-Lin getting the Friday night win over Jones. A native of Red Bay, Alabama — Blackburn gave up eight hits and gave up four earned runs in 5.1 innings of work.

Biswell gave up just one hit in closing out the final 2.2 innings of action.