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Northeast Mississippi Community College’s baseball team picked the right time for its first sweep of the year as the Tigers knocked off Jones CountyJunior College on Saturday, February 25 in Ellisville.
Northeast (3-3) secured the sweep with a pair of wins -- 9-6 in nine innings and 5-3 -- over the nation’s second best National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II baseball program.
Prior to the season, Jones County was ranked as the nation’s second-best NJCAA Division II baseball program in the January 26 preseason poll ahead of perennial power LSU-Eunice after posting a 46-17 record during the 2010-11 season.
In the opener, the Tigers saw the Bobcats battle back from a 5-0 deficit to force ‘free baseball’ but in the ninth inning, Northeast was able to set the stage for the sweep with a four-run frame.
A couple of timely hits allowed Northeast to plate its four runs in the ninth as Taylor Bonifacio started the rally by getting hit by a pitch for the second time in the game.
After Bonifacio advanced to second on a ground out, Eric Wilson’s single to center broke the tie as Bonifacio scored giving the Tigers a 6-5 advantage.
Northeast was not done as Drew Cristo followed with a single and Bo Littlejohn’s walk loaded the bases with just one out in the frame. Justin Neal’s groundout gave Northeast a two-run cushion as Wilson scored and Drew Chisholm put the Tigers up for good with a two-out, two-run double to right.
Earlier in the contest, Northeast had taken a 5-0 lead on Jones County after a Corey Smith single chased home Neal in the first and the Drews – Cristo and Chisholm – combined for another run in the second as Chisholm’s sacrifice fly to center in the second inning allowed Cristo to score.
A trio of hits set the stage for Northeast’s third run of the first game as Bonifacio led off the third and Josh Mills and Wilson followed with singles staking the Tigers to a 3-0 advantage.
Northeast tacked on two more runs in the fifth thanks to Bonifacio and Cristo. After getting hit by a pitch, Bonifacio put himself in scoring position by moving up on a pair of passed balls and scampered home when Jones County mishandled a ball. Sawyer Wheatley finished the early scoring for the Tigers as his pinch-hit single chased home Cristo.
Beau Cummings stifled the Jones County offense for the first four innings limiting the Bobcats to just one hit before Jones County was able to break the shutout in the fifth.
A two-run fifth and three-run sixth allowed the Bobcats to force the Tigers third nine-inning contest of the early season.
In the nightcap, Northeast continued with the last inning heroics as the Tigers broke a 3-all tie with two runs in the seventh.
Back-to-back singles by Tre Welch and Ethan Estes set the table for the Tigers in the final frame of regulation and after a Chisholm walk loaded the bases.Welch broke the tie by scoring on a wild pitch.
Northeast added an insurance run in the seventh when Estes scored on an errand pickoff attempt to second by Bobcat reliever Dylan Delaune.
Jones County attempted to force another extra inning game but pitching and defense sealed the game for the Tigers.
Reliever Jonathan Morrison got out of a two-on, no-out jam but inducing a foul out and a fielder’s choice and Bonifacio made a sliding catch in left to lock up the sweep for Northeast.
Northeast faces a busy week on the diamond.
After playing Jackson State (Tenn.) on Monday, February 27, the Tigers travel to Hanceville, Alabama in a rematch of the season opener with Wallace State on Tuesday, February 28. A pair of games against Hinds Community College in the Wes Cliburn Tournament on Thursday, March 1 precedes a home doubleheader against Arkansas Baptist on Saturday, March 3.