Lady Choctaw Softball Team Looking to Build Off of Last Year’s NCAA Tournament Run/by Elliot Reeder

The Mississippi College softball team has quickly become one of the most consistently high-performing teams in the GSC since making the jump to Division II in 2015. Last season, the Lady Choctaws won 40 games overall and won two games in the NCAA Regionals before falling in the region final. MC head coach Brooke O’Hair believes that that run will help motivate this year’s team: “Anytime you go to the postseason, every step you take further is a tease. So with every returner we have, that just motivates them even more.” She added, “Going into the regionals last year and making it to the final game [of the regional] was a testament to what our girls do day in day out, but at the end of the day, it’s not good enough for us. They always want more. Our goal is to get past the championship round of regionals.”

Sophomore pitcher Hannah Creel said, “This year’s returners now know what it takes to get to a championship, and we want to get there again this season. Losing in the championship game really motivated us more than anything because we do remember what it felt like to go home empty-handed. Going to a regional and winning those two games to get to the championship helped us understand what it is we are playing for, and we are ready to fight for it again this year.”

So far this season, the Lady Choctaws have faced a grueling schedule to open up the season. MC has played in two tournaments and of their first seven games, three of them have been against preseason nationally ranked teams in Division II. The Lady Choctaws are 4-3 to start the season, but senior outfielder Shayla McKissock believes that the tough schedule will help the team in the long run: “It would be easy for us to come out with a poofy schedule and start out 8-0, but I think the fact that we are playing these harder teams is testing us and showing us where we need to improve. Also, it shows us where we are strong. We are getting to know exactly who we are as a team, and how we can build forward from there.”

Coach O’Hair also pointed to how the tough schedule will help the team in terms of strength of schedule and potentially getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, like last season, if the team falls short of winning the GSC tournament. She remarked, “In order to be the best, you have to play the best.” Both O’Hair and McKissock believe that the tough schedule will help prepare them for the daunting GSC schedule. O’Hair says, “It really prepares us for conference play because I consider our conference to be the best Division II conference in the country, so in order for us to compete and win conference championships, we have to play the top teams in the country to prepare before we start conference play.”

The Lady Choctaws sat at 2-3 after an opening game loss to Henderson State in a tournament Feb. 8 and 9. MC had already lost to two nationally-ranked teams on the season and all three of the team’s losses had been by a combined five runs. The team’s upcoming game was against preseason #2 nationally-ranked and reigning national runner-ups Texas A&M-Kingsville. The Lady Choctaws came out firing at the plate and Creel was brilliant on the mound as MC would pull away late to win the game and pick up the upset 8-1. Creel added, “Beating Kingsville was huge. They were undefeated at the time, and their stats were pretty good. We knew that we were walking into a big game, and we would need to play our best. We came out swinging, and our defense and offense was solid. It was a big win for us, and I am happy that I got to play a part in it. We are playing tough teams early on to make us better. We could easily be undefeated right now if we really wanted to be by playing weaker teams, but that won’t benefit us at all when it comes to conference games. We are able to face some of the best pitchers and hitters in the country right now, and I truly believe that we will be better down the road because of it.”

Coach O’Hair believes that that win might be a turning point to this team and shows just what they are capable of. “We had a couple of games that we had won until the later innings,” she admitted. “Some of it is inexperience. Some of it is that we haven’t been on the field much practicing due to the weather. So there are some things that our team needs to learn, and the best way to learn is through games. This team learns, and they learn quickly. We played a pretty flawless game, and everybody did their job no matter what was going on. To see it all come together was just a testament to what kind of talent is on this team. It also encourages us to continue to work and to have faith, because this team could accomplish a lot of great things this season.”

This is a young Lady Choctaw team that has two freshman and three sophomore starting position players with a sophomore ace in Creel and a freshman pitcher in Avery Barnett, who has already thrown 15 innings this season. A big part of the young players being able to compete so quickly is recruiting. 

In terms of recruiting, coach O’Hair says she looks first at if a player will fit in with the team: “I have to make sure that they will fit our culture. We always say that of softball program, ‘We’re good because we are talented, but we are as good as we are because we create a good family environment,’ and if kids can’t fit into that type of environment, the way that we work, the way that we encourage one another, how we are there for one another, and how we build a good family team, then they won’t fit in; therefore, they will be a bad egg within our team, and we can’t have that.”

The Lady Choctaws are a young team, but they still have high expectations and are looking to continue what is one of the best multi-year runs in program history. On expectations, Creel added, “At the end of the day, expectations don’t win ball games. We have to go out every game and perform at our very best. If we play the way I know we can play, we will have no problem meeting expectations.” McKissock added, “I think every single person’s goal is to make it to that National Championship, to make it all the way. Seeing the competition we’ve seen so far this year and knowing that they’re top-ranked teams and we’re beating or competing with them strongly, I know that we have the talent as long as we continue to build and grow together in chemistry on the field.”

 

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