CLINTON, Miss. — If the LSU Eunice softball team is going to repeat as national champion, it will have to do something it never had to do as it swept its way to last season’s title.
The Lady Bengals’ 9-7 loss to No. 2 Jones County (Mississippi) Junior College on Friday afternoon at Traceway Park put them in an elimination game against Des Moines Area at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. They would have to win that game, then beat Jones County twice Saturday afternoon to retain the NJCAA Division II title.
“I know it’s going to be tough, but I think we’re ready and I think we’re capable of doing it,” said outfielder Emily Nolan, who hit her fourth homer of the tournament to pull LSU Eunice within two runs in the ninth. “I’ve seen us beat good teams back to back, so I think it’s possible.”
The Lady Bengals (61-3) began the season with 17 consecutive victories. After their first loss, they won 28 in a row before a 9-8 loss at LSU Alexandria on April 9. Their latest win streak reached 16 with a 4-3 victory against Des Moines earlier Friday.
LSU Eunice beat Jones County (52-4) twice in the Region 23 tournament last week: 5-2 and 6-1 in a game shortened to four innings by rain.
“I knew they were good,” Lady Bengals coach Andy Lee said. “I knew they can swing the bats really well, and they executed today and got the big hits. They played very solid defense, and we just didn’t hang with them. I thought they played better than us.”
LSU Eunice fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first, just as it had in the first game Friday. Raven Cole struggled with her command, walking the leadoff hitter, hitting another and being called for two illegal pitches.
Cole had a 1-2 count on the fifth batter of the game when Cox turned to Destin Vicknair, who had thrown a complete game and hit a game-winning, two-run homer against Des Moines.
“It was a really big game, and I didn’t want it to get out of hand,” Lee said. “I wanted to stop the bleeding.”
Vicknair allowed a single that brought home two inherited runners, then threw two scoreless innings. The Lady Bengals pulled even on Carey Alexis’ three-run homer in the second.
Jones County regained the lead by scoring three runs in the fourth, and LSU Eunice pulled within one on RBI doubles by Taylor Boulet and Brooklynn Clark in the bottom half.
Vicknair, who battled through a sore lower back that surfaced during the opener, allowed another run in the fifth before being relieved by Kayla Davidson to start the sixth.
“I wanted to be there for my team,” Vicknair said, “but the more I kept pushing on it, the more it kept pulling.”
Davidson allowed a two-run homer to Tori Dew in the seventh before Nolan added to her school records with her 21st homer and 100th and 101st RBIs to complete the scoring.
Lee said Davidson likely will start Saturday’s elimination game, and it will be all hands on deck.
“It’s win or the season is over,” he said. “But we’re still in the tournament, and we still have a chance. We’ve won three in a row a bunch of times. If you win the first one, anything can happen.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.