Baseball, softball start season as basketball concludes

Spring is a time for new beginnings. Personally, you can take it as a mulligan for your New Year’s resolutions. In sports, it means the end of the season for Mississippi College’s basketball teams, and dawn of a new year for the baseball and softball clubs.

The Choctaw’s baseball team lost their first game to the cross-town Belhaven Blazers. Belhaven announced recently it they would seek to fill the vacancy left in the NCAA Division III American Southwest Conference by MC, as the Choctaws move to Division II.

The boys of spring found their first win in their home opener at Frierson Field, defeating ASC opponent Hardin-Simmons 2-1. Starting pitcher Brooks Fortenberry paved the way to the win, allowing only three hits and a single walk, while compiling seven strikeouts. The lefty pitched for all but the final out in the seven-inning game. Fortenberry leads Choctaw starters with a 3.45 ERA, after finishing with a team-leading 2.85 average a year ago.

MC would lose its next five games. Fortenberry’s next start would come against Sul Ross State, on Feb. 28. He carried a nine-strikeout no-hit bid until a 3-run home run came with two outs in the fifth inning. The Choctaws would eventually fall 6-5.

On March 1., in the last game of the Sul Ross series, MC found its second win of the year. The victory in the 1-0 game can be attributed to strong pitching, this time by Blake Mcilwain. The senior tossed 8.1 scoreless innings, allowing five hits while striking out seven. Grady Truman would earn a save, polishing the game by inducing a double play in the final frame. The Choctaws would only score one run in the game, off of a single and a few sacrifices to knock in Spencer Wilson, after he singled to leadoff the inning.

The Choctaws will play No. 20 Millsaps on March 4, a rematch of a game that ended 2-5 in favor of the Majors a week ago. MC will host East Texas Baptist in a three game series this weekend.

On another diamond nearby, the Lady Choctaws found more success. Their record of 5-5 is outstanding after only winning eight games in the entire 2013 campaign. Furthermore, the softball team has faced strong competition, including three games each against #8 ETBU and #5 Texas-Tyler.

The Lady Choctaws gathered four of their wins as they swept the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in their inaugural series. MC lost its next three, all on the road to #8 ETBU. When they returned home to face #5 UTT, the Lady Choctaws got back to winning, taking the first game 2-1.

Elissa Kelly, who has carried most of the Lady Choctaw’s innings, pitched the complete game, allowing the single run on six hits, while striking out three. After tying the score 1-1 in the sixth inning, MC entered the final frame ready to win. The first two batters made contact, but grounded into outs.

With a single out between her and extra innings, Megan Everett singled to center field. That would start the rally. Shay Mickens followed with a single of her own, to third base, pushing Everett safely to second. Brooke Smitherman, who leads the team hitting .500, came up to the plate. She was walked on 4 balls, bringing the less-prolific Macey Lee to the plate with the bases loaded.

She knocked a walk-off single to right field, successfully defeating the #5 team in the nation.

Unfortunately, the Lady Choctaws could not keep that success rolling, as the UTT took the next two games to win the series. MC will travel to the University of Texas-Dallas this weekend, in a three game series.

On Feb. 24, the men’s basketball team closed out the season with a win at home against ASC-rival Louisiana College. The Choctaws tallied 11 wins and 14 losses on the year, only their second losing season since the 1988-89 season. Posting an 8-6 home record, the team found trouble on the road, going 3-8.

As Mississippi College continues its transition into Division II next year, it will cease affiliation with the ASC. This year, teams were ineligible for postseason play in the ASC and Division III.

“Our team is not eligible for the conference tournament, and they know that,” said head coach Don Lofton, in an interview earlier this season, “and so that does affect them.”

Lofton has no need to defend his coaching career. In 10 seasons at the helm at MC, he has compiled a 179-91 record. The Choctaws never missed an ASC tournament that they were eligible for, and Lofton had multiple NCAA DIII tournament appearances.

Next year, the Choctaws will face Gulf South Conference competition for the first time since 1996. They will be ineligible for GSC and D II tournaments, but MC will have its first class of athletic-scholarship beneficiaries.

– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor

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