EUNICE, La. — Mississippi Gulf Coast knew it had its work cut out for it playing in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament, playing on top-ranked LSU-Eunice's home field.
The Bulldogs drew the Bengals in their second game of the third day of the tournament and fell 13-4 in seven innings.
"We just didn't play well," Gulf Coast coach Rodney Batts said. "They're five-time national champions and No. 1 in the country for a reason. They're athletic and can do a lot of things. We talked before the game about not giving them freebies and making it easy. We did too much of that early."
Gulf Coast finishes the season 36-16. In the Bulldogs' first visit to a regional since 2012, they won two games and end up two wins short of a trip to the World Series. They were ranked 18th in the final NJCAA Division II poll.
They defeated Itawamba 14-1 in five innings in an elimination game earlier Friday but didn't have enough firepower for LSU-E.
Down 2-0 in the second, Gulf Coast loaded the bases with one out but couldn't get a run across. LSU-Eunice added two more runs in the bottom of the inning, and six in the third.
"We've got a great bunch of guys who keep fighting no matter what the score it," Batts said. "They don't play for the scoreboard; they play for each other and play with heart. Down 10-0, they put up a four-spot. That was good to see them not lay down."
The Bulldogs couldn't tack on any more runs and errors led to a bigger deficit, one that ended the game after the seventh. They finished with five, despite a strong relief appearance by Truitt Smith (Fr, Stone/Wiggins). He struck out four in 3.1 innings, allowing four hits but only one earned run.
"We kept fighting," Batts said. "The spirit was good in the dugout. I commend Truitt for coming in there like he did. He came in there and gave us a chance. Our offense never got on track."
The sophomore class leaves the program in better shape than when they arrived, and seven of them have signed to continue their playing careers at four-year schools with another contemplating offers. Their leadership of a strong group of freshmen brought the squad together.
"I couldn't be prouder of them," Batts said. "The end result here isn't a reflection of where we've been all year. We leave here disappointed, but I'm super proud of these guys and what they did. I told them a month ago, probably nobody gave us a chance."
NJCAA Region 23 Tournament
Wednesday, May 16
Game 1: No. 4 Itawamba 4, No. 3 Meridian 3
Game 2: No. 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast 16, No. 2 Pearl River 6 (8 innings)
Game 3: No. 1 LSU-Eunice 10, No. 6 Hinds 0 (5 innings)
Thursday, May 17
Game 4: Pearl River 8, Hinds 4
Game 5: Meridian 13, Gulf Coast 5 (8 innings)
Game 6: LSU-Eunice 5, Itawamba 4 (11 innings)
Friday, May 18
Game 7: Gulf Coast 14, Itawamba 1 (5 innings)
Game 8: Meridian 25, Pearl River 12 (6 innings)
Game 9: LSU-Eunice 13, Gulf Coast 4 (7 innings)
Saturday, May 19
Game 10: LSU-Eunice (53-5) vs. Meridian (38-12), 3 p.m.
Sunday, May 20
If Necessary Game
Game 11: Game 10 winner vs. Game 10 loser, 1 p.m.
- Schedule may change after game 9 depending on number of one-loss teams
- Winner advances to the 2018 NJCAA Division II World Series as the South District representative
For more information on MGCCC's 10 intercollegiate athletic teams, follow @MGCCCAthletics on Twitter and BulldogLIVE on Facebook, and go to mgcccbulldogs.com.