PERKINSTON — No. 7 Mississippi Gulf Coast emerged from the brutal MACJC Tournament as the state runner-up, qualifying for the next step.
The NJCAA Region 23 Tournament, unbelievably, is tougher still. The Lady Bulldogs (39-12) are the lowest-ranked team in the field, and they open with No. 4 LSU-Eunice (46-10), the defending national champions.
Gulf Coast and LSU-E meet in the first game of the tournament Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Ellisville. No. 1 Jones County (47-2) plays No. 6 Itawamba (39-12-1) in the night game.
The quality of play should match what took place last week, when four of the top eight teams in the country met for the MACJC Tournament. No. 8 East Central has been traded out for the fourth-ranked team. It puts a premium on execution.
"Every play means something," Gulf Coast coach Kenneth Long said. "You cannot make a mistake. It will come back and hurt you. The other team will score on it."
The Lady Bulldogs have beaten all three teams in the field. Gulf Coast lost a pair of games at Eunice on Feb. 22, then turned around two days later and beat the Lady Bengals 1-0 in Meridian. Nora Keehn (So, Thibodaux, La./Vandebilt Catholic) blanked them that day.
"They were ranked No. 1 early in the season and have been in the top four most of the year," Long said. "They're going to be really good. They're always a solid team and it's going to be a challenge."
MGCCC is 1-3 against Jones and 3-1 against Itawamba, having defeated the Lady Indians twice in the state tournament.
NJCAA Region 23 Tournament
Tournament seeds listed
Game 1: No. 3 Gulf Coast vs. No. 2 LSU-Eunice, 4 p.m.
Game 2: No. 1 Jones County vs. No. 4 Itawamba, 6 p.m.
Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 3 p.m.
Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 7: If necessary, 30 minutes later
For more information on MGCCC's 10 intercollegiate athletic teams, follow @MGCCCAthletics on Twitter and BulldogLIVE on Facebook, and go to mgcccbulldogs.com.