POPLARVILLE, Miss. — It would have been easy weeks ago for the Pearl River softball team to pack things in and start solidifying their summer vacations. Trailing in the MACJC standings, the Lady Wildcats needed wins — and in a hurry — as the regular season started to come to a close. The team ultimately rallied, winning 11 of 13 regular season games just to qualify for the MACJC Tournament. Unsatisfied and riding a wave of momentum, PRCC upset reigning national champion Jones College and then knocked off Northeast to host the program's first Region XXIII Tournament.
The Lady Wildcats' fun ride through the last couple of weeks came to an end Thursday, however, as PRCC fell to Copiah-Lincoln 9-3 in the first elimination game of the Region XXIII Tournament.
"It was a challenging year but these kids kept fighting and found their way to the state tournament," Pearl River coach Leigh White said. "This group has put up a lot of fight this year. We did struggle at the plate here at the end but the ball just rolls that way sometimes. This group overcame a lot and I'm proud of the way they fought and showed out at the state tournament to give us this opportunity."
True to their recent form, the Lady Wildcats (27-22 overall) fought to the final out. Trailing by six, the Lady Wildcats still worked a walk and a base hit in the seventh before ultimately closing their memorable 2019 season.
Pearl River jumped on Co-Lin (31-16) in the second inning as back to back doubles from Alyssa Pinero (Picayune) and Neely McLeod (Lucedale; George County) coupled with a single over the first baseman's head gave PRCC a 2-0 lead in the second. Brooke Fagan (Kiln; Hancock) scored from third on an Elizabeth Taggard (Picayune) groundout in the third to extend their lead to 3-0.
"I felt good right there," White said. "We were making things happen and punching some runs in."
The game turned in the bottom of the third, however, as Co-Lin scored three runs on four singles to tie the game. Two innings later, the Wolves plated five more runs to take an 8-3 lead that proved to be insurmountable. Co-Lin tacked on one final run in the sixth.
"They fought. They didn't lay down. They fought and I'm proud of them for that," White said. "We just couldn't get our groove going today."
Rylee Swilley (Kiln; Hancock) and Dallas Blaker (Bay St. Louis; Our Lady Academy) both pitched in the circle for PRCC. Swilley allowed seven runs (five earned) in four innings, before giving way to Blaker for the final two frames. The Belhaven signee surrendered two unearned runs.
Fagan was PRCC's only batter with multiple hits, going 3-for-4 with a run scored.
The Lady Wildcats concluded the season with their most wins since coming away victorious 28 times in 2014. PRCC's sophomores also graduated with a 53-40 overall record, the most by a sophomore class since the 2014 Wildcats.
Postgame, White reflected one last time on her upperclassmen.
"We finished fourth in the tournament last year. That group has really grown a lot in every area, on and off the field. In the classroom, I can't ask for a better group," White said. "All 10 of our sophomores graduated. They won in the classroom and that right there is a championship.
"They came out here every day and worked hard for us. This year they stepped up big time. They'll be missed."
White also expressed excitement over her returners, led by Fagan at shortstop, center fielder Hannah Rasberry (Lucedale; George County), catcher/designated player Jenna Comeaux (Lafayette, La.; Comeaux) and pitchers Gracie Barnett (Vancleave) and Grace Stringer (Moselle; South Jones).
"We have some kids in place who can help lead the next group and that's what you want," White said.