PERKINSTON — Mississippi Gulf Coast will open its new stadium at Ross-Smith Field on Saturday, ending a two-season long road trip for the Lady Bulldogs softball team.
"We're very excited about having our first game in this new stadium," Gulf Coast coach Kenneth Long said. "The players talk about it constantly. Our fans are excited. Our parents are excited. We can't wait to open up Saturday at noon"
Gulf Coast plays back-to-back doubleheaders against Marion Military on Saturday and Sunday.
The stadium includes 265 seats, including 45 with chairbacks. All bleacher seats have backrests. There is a terrace area available for seating, as well, bringing overall capacity to around 300. Season tickets and chairback tickets can be purchased at http://mgcccbulldogs.com/tickets.
The softball field moved to its current location on the Perkinston Campus in 1982. It was named Ross-Smith Field after legendary MGCCC coaches Sue Ross and Doris "Blackie" Smith in 2006.
The Lady Bulldogs are coming off a 22-16 season that saw them knocked out in the first round of the MACJC playoffs. That playoff structure has changed this year, with the top eight teams in the regular season making the double-elimination MACJC Tournament.
The top three teams will advance to the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament, which will be hosted by the MACJC champs. Two teams from that four-team regional make it to the national championship in Clinton.
Avery Sanders (So., Edward Douglas/Thibodaux, La.) was Gulf Coast's leading pitcher last year and returns after a 9-5 season that saw strike out 88 batters in 100.2 innings with a 3.27 ERA.
"She's more focused," Long said. "Her control is better and her changeup is really good. I think she's going to have a good year for us."
Newcomer Kristen Cade (Fr., Harrison Central/Saucier) finished off a brilliant high school career last year with a 10-0 season where she struck out 94 batters in 68 innings on the way to a miniscule 0.10 ERA. Cade was a two-time All-State selection and helped Harrison Central win the Class 6A state championship as a sophomore.
"Kristen has come in and just picked up where she left off in her high school career," Long said. "She's been a good solid pitcher for us. She commands her pitches well, throws strikes, hardly ever walks anybody. She's a good pitcher."
Hannah Hembree (So., Pascagoula/Pascagoula) played in 21 games last season, and she returns as she's expected to be the main catcher. Kristen Cade's twin sister Kayla Cade will see some time back there, too.
They're part of a well-balanced lineup expected to help lead the Lady Bulldogs back to the postseason.
"I think we've got a chance to be really good hitting team up and down the lineup," he said. "I think we'll hit the ball well. We'll hit for power. We have some people who can hit the ball hard, drive the ball."
Shelby Archer (Fr., Pearl River Central/Picayune) will lead off and play second base, with Briana Shores (Fr., Richland/Richland) making the move from third to short. The frees up third for Betty Mingo (So., Choctaw Central /Philadelphia), who hit three home runs and drove in 15 runs last year while splitting time between that position and the pitcher's circle, where she went 8-4 with a 3.66 ERA.
Long expects Bailey Massey (So., Bruce /Bruce) to roam center field. She appeared in 24 games and had a double, a triple and seven RBI last year.
"Bailey Massey is doing a real good job in center field," he said. "Coach Adcock turned her around to the left side early in the fall, and she's done a really good job. She's worked hard and is getting on base for us. She's a scrappy player who works hard."
Kaitlynn McGoey (So., Long Beach/Long Beach) will play left, and Camryn Williams (So., White Hall/White Hall, Ark.) will start the season in right while Kenzie Nichols (Fr., Germantown/Madison) recovers from an injury. Williams batted .294 with seven home runs and 31 RBI at East Mississippi last season, while McGoey batted .328 at Perk last year.
"This conference is always really tough," Long said. "Jones won the national championship last year. They'll be No. 1 to start with and they'll be really good. Itawamba is gonna be really good. Northeast has a real dominant pitcher. Pearl River is our rival and they're always really good. Throw East Central into that group. There's a lot of good teams as usual. We'll have to play well to stay up there."
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