Choctaw Baseball wins seven straight

When the Mississippi College baseball team started its season, it seemed like they were playing in a sandbox, not playing an organized sport. They dropped six of their first seven games, and halfway through March found themselves with a 5-11 (4-8 ASC) record.

Since then, the Choctaws have begun building their castle. MC is now riding a seven-game win streak that includes a series sweep of #24 LeTourneau and a win over cross-town rival Belhaven, who the Choctaws had not beaten since 2010.

MC’s unbeaten streak began after the team was swept in a series at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Returning home to face LeTourneau, staff veteran Brooks Fortenberry took the mound. The six foot five inch hurler grounded the YellowJackets. Through the first 26 outs, the Junior allowed only 4 hits, striking out 9 while walking none. Fortenberry struggled to find the last out, and let a run in before relief came and finished the game, giving the Choctaws a 5-1 win.

His performance did not go unrecognized. Fortenberry garnered ASC Baseball Pitcher of the Week honors. A few days later, he was selected as the NCCAA Student-Athlete of the Week. The awards did not satisfy Fortenberry. He was still eager to record his first collegiate complete game.

The Magee native got his next start on the road against ASC foe Ozarks (8-13, 5-11 ASC). Fortenberry started strong, striking out two in the first inning. He then faltered, allowing 2 hits in both the second and third innings. Fortenberry navigated the trouble, never letting a runner past second base.

The lone baserunner for the rest of the game for Ozarks came on a bunt single in the bottom of the seventh frame. Fortenberry quickly stifled the threat, inducing a double play to end the inning. The masterpiece was completed when Ozarks popped three fly-ball outs in the ninth. Fortenberry completed the game with a shutout, needing only 103 pitches as he struck out six. He did not walk a batter, and allowed only 5 hits. The Choctaws won the game, 8-0.

Through the seven-game win streak, the Choctaws have averaged 7.7 runs per game. Before the streak, they only scored 3.3 per game. Offensively, the team is led by Marty Stringfellow, who is hitting .440 and has a .500 OBP. Stringfellow’s average is the second highest in the ASC among qualified competition. Robbie Jernigan is second on the team, hitting .338 while knocking in a team-best 16 runs.

In order to make the NCCAA postseason, MC will need to win 14 of its remaining 17 games. The schedule remains tough for the Choctaws, who will play a three-game series against ASC leading #16 Concordia Texas this weekend. The teams will battle in a doubleheader on Friday, with first pitch set for 3 p.m. The final game of the series will begin at noon on Saturday.

After an early slump, the Mississippi College softball team is back to its winning ways.  The Lady Choctaws have won 12 of their last 14, raising their record to 17-7. The team is hitting .360 on the year, while the pitching staff has held opponents to a .248 average.

The Choctaws are led by Brooke Smitherman, who easily paces the ASC with a .614 batting average. The Junior has 6 doubles and 6 homeruns in her 44 at-bats, while working 42 walks. Her on-base percentage is .802. She has 27 runs and 26 runs batted in. Smitherman’s numbers are good enough for fourth in the nation among qualified competition.

Running her numbers through a simplified (and imperfect) WAR calculator online, she is worth 5.9 wins above an average player over the Lady Choctaws’ 39-game season. Miguel Cabrera had a WAR of 7.6 across a 162-game season in his 2013 AL MVP campaign. In other words, Smitherman’s numbers are phenomenal.

When not at the plate, pitchers for MC have compiled a team ERA of 2.80. Ashley Vann leads the team with a 1.25 ERA, holding opponents to a .132 average in her 28 innings of work. Elissa Kelly has carried the most innings for the Lady Choctaws, throwing 66.2 innings and maintaining a 3.15 ERA. She has a WHIP of 1.36.

The Lady Choctaws will face Sul Ross State University (3-23, 3-18 ASC) this weekend in Texas. Barring implosion, the team will participate in NCCAA postseason play in May.

– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor


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