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Sports Column: Region 23 Tournament different this year

By Staff
May 5, 2002
Scanning through the sports scene on a Sunday while wondering whatever happened to Kevin Shipp …
When the six junior college baseball teams gather at Meridian Community College's Scaggs Field later this week for the Region 23 Tournament, it will be the first time in seven years that host MCC won't be considered the favorite to win the double-elimination event.
In fact, until two weekends ago, it was up in the air as to whether or not the Eagles would even make the field.
But MCC did what it needed to and took two-of-three from Bossier, working its way into the tournament field.
The favorite this year is Delgado (La.) Community College, the team that won the Miss-Lou Conference, of which Meridian is in its final year as a member.
Usually MCC is considered a force to be reckoned with when it comes Region 23 Tournament time. One reason is that the tournament is played at Scaggs Field, where the Eagles are very tough to beat. Another is the tradition at MCC. The Eagles have been to the NJCAA Junior College World Series five times since 1993, the last time coming in 2000.
The third is that MCC usually comes into the tournament with a Top 20 team loaded with clutch hitters and pitchers dying for the chance to toe the rubber in the big game.
But this year's team, much like the 1993 club, had to scrap and scrape to get into the tournament.
Before you start counting this team out, let me remind you that the 1993 team led by sophomore catcher David Steed was the first MCC baseball club to reach the Juco World Series in Grand Junction, Colo. That team began a tradition, that this year's club is trying to uphold.
In fact, if this year's team does not reach the World Series it will be first time that an entering MCC baseball freshman, who played two consecutive seasons at Meridian, did not play in at least one World Series.
That is something that MCC head coach Mike Federico has made sure this year's team knows about.
But despite trying to uphold a steep tradition, the pressure is really not on this team.
The pressure should be on Delgado, which is clearly the class of this year's field. The pressure should be on Gulf Coast Community College, the defending champion.
The pressure should be on Mississippi Delta, who hasn't won a region title since 1995. The pressure should be on Jones Junior College, who has yet to win a region crown since the inception of the tournament.
The two teams who should be feeling very little pressure are MCC and East Mississippi Community College.
The Eagles and Lions both suffered through tough seasons, but won the games they had to win down the stretch to reach the tournament. In fact, EMCC had to sweep its last regular season doubleheader and then win a playoff game on the road to make the tourney.
Yes, EMCC is just 17-29. Yes, Meridian is 24-26 and in danger of its first losing season since Corky Palmer's first season in 1987.
But here is the fact that really matters they are still playing. And until a team loses two games next weekend, then all six of them have a chance to win.
One of the big differences this year for both MCC and Gulf Coast is that this is one of the first seasons in recent memory in which both of those squads almost have to win the tournament opener on Thursday, in order to win the tournament.
In years past both of those teams were so strong in pitching or so loaded in hitting that they could work themselves thorough the losers bracket. Delgado is probably the only team capable of doing that this year.
And while Delgado does come in with the favored team, it is far from a done deal. To be truthful, this is probably the weakest Region 23 field from top to bottom in quite some time. But it also might be one of the most evenly matched and most competitive.
Who will win? This year, I honestly don't know. But I can tell you this, nothing would surprise me. Nothing.
And that should make it a fun tournament to watch.

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