River kickoffs quest for MACJC title repeat Thursday against East Miss

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POPLARVILLE Pearl River Lady Wildcats, the reigning MACJC state champions, eye an identical scenario as last year as they enter the 2011 state tournament set for Thursday and Friday at Mississippi Gulf Coast in Perkinston.PRCC enters the event as the South Division No. 4 seed just like a year ago and is considered by most as a long shot at repeating its historical feat of 2010.The Lady Wildcats kick off tournament action against North No. 1 East Mississippi at 2 p.m. Thursday.Ninth-year Pearl River head coach Leigh White is cautiously optimistic going in.”Youve got to get in (the tournament) to even have a chance,” White said. “A couple of weeks back, our chances (of getting in) didnt look exceptionally good, but out bats got started. We won when we had to. Were just glad to have a chance at repeating (as state champions).”Pearl River clinched the division fourth seed with its 3-0 victory Friday over Jones County in Ellisville, but fell to the third-seeded Lady Bobcats 4-3 in the nightcap game via a bottom-of-the-seventh, inside-the-park home run.The Lady Wildcats enter this year tournament at 20-20 overall.A year ago, PRCC entered the state tournament at then-North champ Itawamba in Fulton under the exact circumstances it faces this go around.”Last year played out about like it did this year,” White continued. “We didnt really know if we were going to make the tournament until the very end of the regular season and finally got in as the fourth seed.”And not many people expected us to do what we did, but we went in, played consistently, and took three straight wins and won the school first ever state (softball) championship,” she explained. “We can do that very same thing again.”In 2010, the Lady Cats trimmed North champ Itawamba 4-3 in opening-round action, then bounced back with a surprising 7-0 shutout win over South No. 2 Mississippi Gulf Coast in the semi-finals before smacking South No. 1 East Central 2-0 behind a spectacular one-hit mound performance by then-freshman hurler Sheila Hall of Dutchtown (La.) High.Hall back in 2011, sporting an 11-9 pitching record heading into the tournament. PRCC No. 2 starter, freshman Heather Hester of Hancock County High, is 8-11 overall, absorbing Friday bottom-of-the-seventh setback to JCJC in relief of Hall.”Weve been spotty on the mound for most of the year, but weve played solid defense all year long,” White said. “It a tough act to follow, but if we can pitch consistently, keep errors to a minimum, and get out bats going; we can repeat.”East Mississippi won the outright North Division title last week with a 4-2,, 5-4 sweep over now-North No. 2 Itawamba.Here is a breakdown of the tournament bracket:THURSDAYGAME ONE: 12 noon, South No. 2 East Central (29-11) vs. North No. 3 Northwest Mississippi (23-16).GAME TWO: 2 p.m., North No. 1 East Mississippi (22-20) vs. South No. 4 Pearl River (20-20).GAME THREE: 4 p.m., North No. 2 Itawamba (28-17) vs. South No. 3 Jones County (32-12).GAME FOUR: 6 p.m., South No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast (32-10) vs. North No. 4 Northeast Mississippi (25-22).FRIDAYGAME FIVE: 12 noon, ICC-JCJC winner vs. MGCCC-NEMCC winner.GAME SIX: 2 p.m., ECCC-NWMCC winner vs. EMCC-PRCC winner.GAME SEVEN: Championship game, 5 p.m., Game Five winner vs. Game Six winner.