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BOONEVILLE, Miss. (WCBI/NEMCC Athletics) – With a team comprised predominantly of freshmen, Northeast Mississippi Community College coach Jody Long hopes an early road swing will help his players acclimate to the grind that is a college softball schedule.northeast

Long and the Tigers open the 2014 slate that consists of 50 games with doubleheaders at Jackson State (Tenn.) Community College and Calhoun (Ala.) Community College on back-to-back days beginning Wednesday, February 12.

“It gives us a chance to really let our young group see that this is a big step up from high school when you drive 30 minutes down the road to play somebody,” said Long. “It will also allow our players to see what kind of commitment it’s going to take for us to make it throughout the season.”

Northeast concludes a busy opening week of the campaign on Saturday, February 15 in its first home contests against Dyersburg State (Tenn.) Community College.

Softball fans are in for a treat the following weekend when squads from around the country invade Booneville City Park for the annual TigerFest Tournament. Three fields will see action from morning till evening on February 21-22.

The Tigers are also set to participate in the Cardinal Spring Fling at Gadsden, Ala., for the initial time in program history from March 7-8. A full lineup for both of these events is still to be determined.

Long tries his best to enter multiple competitions such as these each season to prepare his athletes for the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) playoffs.

“At the end of the year when we play in the State Tournament, it’s not like playing a doubleheader,” he said. “You’ve got to have some tournament experience of playing multiple games in multiple days.”

MACJC North Division action starts one week earlier than it did in 2013 when rival Itawamba Community College comes to Booneville on Saturday, March 1.

Northeast has a very busy spring break with six contests in three days starting on Tuesday, March 11 with a league matchup versus visiting East Mississippi Community College. The Tigers also travel to Dyersburg State and Three Rivers (Mo.) Community College in that span.

Other key dates on the calendar include March 28 when Northeast makes the return trip to Itawamba and an April 8 meeting with defending MACJC North Division champion East Mississippi in Scooba.

Long, who enters his ninth year as headman of the Tigers, expects nothing more than another crazy campaign in conference play.

“I really foresee this season being no different than the last two or three in that it could come down to that final day or weekend to determine who’s going to win it,” Long said. “It’s gonna to be a dog fight for us day in and day out to ensure one of those top seeds.”

Northeast will honor its sophomores in the home finale on Monday, April 21 against Jackson State

A best-of-three series kicks off the state playoffs and runs from April 25-26. The MACJC State Tournament will be held at the North Division winner one week later.

The Tigers qualified for the State Tournament for the third year in a row in 2013 with a 23-15-1 record. Northeast hopes to improve on its fourth place finish in conference play from one season ago.

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