CLINTON, Miss. — LSU-Eunice pounded three early home runs and relied on another gem from Most Outstanding Pitcher Jensen Howell to grab a 10-5 win over Phoenix College in the NJCAA Division II national championship game on Saturday. The Bengals (52-6) swept through the tournament to clinch the program's sixth national title and fifth in the past seven years.
"The girls just came to play — we got some big hits off a great pitcher and our team just refused to lose," LSU-Eunice coach Andy Lee said. "I'm proud of every one of them, they've worked extremely hard and this is a moment they will remember for the rest of their lives."
Madison Monson delivered the early fireworks with a towering two-run home run to give LSUE the early 2-0 lead. It was Monson's team-best 14th home run of the season and third of the national tournament.
"I knew with a full count I was going to get something to hit, and I just took advantage of the situation," Bengals sophomore Madison Monson added. "I knew that getting the big hit early was going to give us momentum, and I couldn't wait to pass the bat to my teammates."
Phoenix would answer with two runs of its own in the bottom of the first, capitalizing on an error and sacrifice fly.
LSU-E, however, seized control for good an inning later as the Bengals blasted a pair of home runs. After the Bengals loaded the bases with two outs, tournament Most Valuable Player Kelci Bodin crushed a grand slam to center field to give LSU-E the lead for good. Abbey Higginbotham followed two batters later with a two-run shot to help the Bengals take an 8-2 lead.
The Bears did not go down easily, scoring three runs in the second inning and chasing LSUE starter Heather Zumo.
Howell relieved and continued her weeklong dominance in the circle, scattering four hits with seven strikeouts in five innings. Howell (22-3) earned Most Outstanding Pitcher after going 2-0 with a save, a 0.33 ERA and 26 strikeouts against just three walks during the week.
"I had a go-get-it attitude after coming off the bench," Howell said. "I knew they had scored some runs on us, but my goal was to shut everything down and keep the foot on the gas."
LSU-E would get a pair of insurance runs with Higginbotham's RBI single in the fourth and Lele Martinez's RBI double in the fifth inning.
Kelci Bodin earned Most Valuable Player honors for the tournament after batting .313 in LSUE's five games. The Loreauville High School product tallied eight RBIs, four runs scored, two doubles, two home runs and three stolen bases.
"I just put my heart into this team and into this game to get here and I'm just so happy for everybody that we were able to do this," Bodin said.