Co-Lin softball brings national championship to Wesson

Published 12:59 pm Saturday, May 27, 2023

For the first time in the 95-year history of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, the Wolves are National Champions.

On a windy, overcast Saturday morning in Spartanburg, South Carolina the Co-Lin softball team clinched the NJCAA Division II National Championship with an emphatic 7-0 win over their rivals from Jones College.

The Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference (MACCC) is considered the deepest league in the nation at this level of softball and all year long it was Co-Lin (49-10) and Jones (50-10) battling for the top spot in the Magnolia State.

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On Saturday morning in the Palmetto State, the teams met for the eighth time this season and the third time in a 24-hour period. Co-Lin ended the 2023 season with a 6-2 record against the Bobcats.

The final pitch of the championship game produced a groundout to Co-Lin first baseman Zykeria Cole, who touched the bag and set off a celebration in the pitching circle as the team raced out of the dugout to gather around starting pitcher Belle West.

West, a sophomore who’s signed with Belhaven University, didn’t give the Jones offense much to work with. In seven innings, West struck out two, walked three and scattered five hits.

A tight game was blown open for the Wolves in a five-run fifth inning that clinched the title.

Leading 2-0, sophomore third baseman Josie Meggs opened the inning off with a single and then moved to second once freshman outfielder Madison Moak drew a walk.

With runners on first and second with no outs, Jones coach Chris Robinson elected to put in his third pitcher of the day.

Jones had started third-year sophomore Nia Luckett in the circle to begin the game, but she was pulled in the third after Moak singled to score Cole and put Co-Lin up 1-0.

Luckett was replaced by Meg Vinson, who threw a wild pitch that scored Meggs from third.

The wild pitch in the third came on an at-bat where Jones was trying to intentionally walk freshman slugger Abby Grace Richardson, but one of those obvious balls went wide past the catcher and to the backstop.

Vinson was lifted in the fifth and replaced by Hanna Zeitz after Meggs and Moak started the inning by getting aboard.

Next up for Co-Lin in the fifth was sophomore Maddie Weeks, a Southern Miss signee, and the all-time RBI leader in program history. Facing her high school teammate from Clinton Christian in the Jones pitcher Zeitz, Weeks drew a four-pitch walk.

With the bases loaded, Co-Lin fans watching live in South Carolina and online around the country were giddy with anticipation at who was due next at the plate for Co-Lin.

The Queen of Crash and the single season home run leader in Co-Lin history, Richardson, was up next.

In a marathon on Friday when Co-Lin had lost to Jones, beaten Des Moines Area Community College and then beaten Jones in a late game to set up the Saturday showdown, Richardson hit three home runs on the day including two against Jones in the nightcap.

With no one out and the bases juiced, Jones had no choice but to pitch to Richardson and the Brookhaven Academy alum delivered in epic fashion.

Her grand slam on a 2-1 count cleared the center field fence and set off a huge celebration at home plate as CLCC went up 6-0.

Co-Lin coach Meleah Howard shows off her hops on the third baseline whenever a Co-Lin batter hits a home run. She’ll leap in the air and give the highest of high-fives at the apex of their jump.

The grand slam was home run no. 24 this season for Richardson, who also wears the no. 24, and you can’t imagine she nor Howard could have jumped any higher than they did in that moment of celebration.

West scored another insurance run for Co-Lin later in the inning as Jones put in its fourth different pitcher of the game. West hit a three-run home run on Friday night to give Co-Lin the late lead in an eventual 10-5 win in eight innings over Jones and was one of many heroes during the week for the Wolf Pack.

Richardson was named Tournament Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Offensive Player. Freshman pitcher Cara Biswell (Brandon High), who pitched Co-Lin to wins over Lansing (Michigan), Parkland (Illinois), Murray State (Oklahoma) and got the win in relief against Jones on Friday night, was named Pitcher of the Tournament.

Co-Lin shortstop Faith Kivett, a Southeastern Louisiana signee, was named Most Valuable Defensive Player.

Biswell and Moak were named to the All-Tournament team while Howard was named Coach of the Year.

Howard is assisted by Amber Beall and Drake Flowers.

Howard and Robinson of Jones stopped for a long, respectful exchange after the teams went through the post-game handshake line. There was plenty of mutual admiration between the teams as several players from each side were teammates in high school.

Weeks and Zeitz starred together at Clinton Christian, West of Co-Lin and Jones outfielder Aailyah Dixon won a MAIS title together at Hillcrest Christian, Co-Lin outfielder Leia Phillips and Jones outfielder Tia’Rain Saunders both played at Choctaw Central High and Jones sophomore Kathryn Smith and Co-Lin freshman Laney Waguespack both graduated from Hahnville High in Boutte, Louisiana.

In 2008, Co-Lin finished as national runners-up in a tournament played in Normal, Illinois.

Howard was a standout infielder and pitcher on that team for longtime Co-Lin head coach Allen Kent.

It was on a windy field that day in central Illinois when Co-Lin softball was last on a stage this big.

On Saturday, the wind was again swirling fiercely as the teams lined up for the trophy presentation. It blew grit into the eyes of the players and whipped the commemorative hats right off their heads.

No one wearing Co-Lin across their chest frowned for even a second at any inconvenience because for the first time ever, the Wolves are national champs.