The Mississippi Association of Community Colleges and Junior Colleges (MACJC) softball playoffs will have plenty of spice from the Golden Triangle to liven things up.
Three of the four series to determine the field for the MACJC State tournament on May 1-3 (site to be determined) will feature at least one former player from the Golden Triangle. All told, five players — Itawamba Community College’s Cara Hopper (Caledonia) and Kaitlin Bradley (New Hope), Jones County Junior College’s Lauren Holifield (New Hope), Holmes C.C.’s Caitlin McLain (Heritage Academy), and East Central C.C.’s Maegen Ellis (Oak Hill Academy) will try to begin play today in the best-of-three play-in series.
Ellis, a freshman shortstop, and Holifield, a sophomore shortstop/pitcher, enter the postseason with the most impressive statistics. Ellis is hitting .382 with a .461 on-base percentage and a .634 slugging percentage. All three marks are second on the team. Ellis leads the team with 49 runs and is second in hits (50), doubles (12), home runs (seven), and RBIs (34).
Defensively, Ellis was moved from second base to shortstop and has earned the confidence of coach Kristin Chaney.
“It definitely has been different,” Ellis said of the position change. “I would like to be the kind of athlete that when you tell me to do something I will do anything for you. Whatever coach Chaney wanted me to do for the team I was willing to do.”
Ellis believes she has done “all right” at her new position. At the plate, though, she has had even more success. Chaney said Ellis arrived in Decatur already knowing how to hit. She said she tweaked Ellis’ batting stance in an attempt to get her to use her legs more. First, she said she tried to have Ellis squat down to recognize the importance of using her lower body to help generate power. Second, she then had Ellis stand up so she could use her legs. The “tweaks” have paid dividends, as Ellis has all seven of her home runs in the last eight or nine series.
“It wasn’t that big of an adjustment,” Chaney said. “She was ready to stand up and show her power.”
Ellis said Chaney often yells “legs, legs, legs” to her when she approaches the plate for an at-bat. She smiled when she said Chaney’s yelling still brings a smile to her face.
“I don’t try to step up and hit a home run,” Ellis said. “My main goal is to get on base so we can score runs.”
At Jones County J.C., Holifield is tearing up the MACJC. She leads the team in hits (65), doubles (17), home runs (22), RBIs (71), total bases (148), slugging percentage (1.130), and extra-base hits (39). She is third in runs (46) and on-base percentage (.507) and second in average (.496).
“She has just been having a phenomenal, phenomenal season,” Jones County J.C. coach Chris Robinson said. “Not only has she been a great player, she also has seen a tremendous benefit from having (sophomore infielder) Tori (Dew) hit in front of her. … She has really been a big help to us this year.”
Robinson said Holifield, who has visited Southeastern Louisiana and Southern Mississippi in her search to find a four-year school to continue her career, showed signs last season of becoming a potent force in the lineup. He said she always has been able to hit, which is a tribute to how hard she works. In fact, Robinson said Holifield “works her tail off.”
Holifield was traveling back from Hattiesburg on her visit from Southern Miss and then had team functions later in the day and was unavailable for comment.
Robinson also credited assistant coach Carlos Castro for helping Holifield with some hitting things to help her maximize her power. He believes that power will carry over to a four-year school, even though he said pitchers at the next level will have more ability to spin the ball in any direction.
“I am happy she is a Bobcat for a few more games,” Robinson said. “She has been a terrific player. She deserves everything she has gotten.”
Hopper, a sophomore right-hander, is 4-4 with a 1.14 ERA and three saves. She has allowed 27 hits and 15 walks in 43 innings. She has struck out 42. She is hitting .286 with five doubles and 14 RBIs. Bradley, who has played in only 19 games due to injuries for the Lady Indians (32-11) is hitting .442 with 12 RBIs.
McLain, who played catcher at Heritage Academy, has appeared in eight games for Holmes C.C.
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Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.