Mississippi State softball coach Vann Stuedeman and her Lady Bulldog fast pitch team are looking forward to the challenge of the upcoming Mississippi Gulf Coast Softball Classic.
The 14-0 Bulldogs will be the Mississippi representative in the 10-team college softball tournament that includes three nationally ranked teams: No. 15 Baylor (12-3), No. 19 South Alabama (11-1) and Louisiana Lafayette (9-5-1), which is 20th in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll and 22nd in the ESPN/USA Softball poll.
The tournament runs Friday through Sunday at the Gulfport Sportsplex.
"We're extremely excited,'' Stuedeman said. "I feel like the City of Gulfport, David D'Aquilla and Rocky Brewer put together a phenomenal event, a first-class tournament. We are looking forward to playing in front of our coastal Bulldog fans.
"For a first annual tournament, the city of Gulfport has put together an incredible field. Everybody has some solid wins and we have three nationally-ranked teams.
"Fans will get to see some great college softball. Our coaching staff will get to see some of the best high school softball in Mississippi.
"For the casual fan who has never been to a college softball game, I encourage them to come.''
There will also be high school side to the tournament with 25 varsity teams and 12 junior varsity teams playing Friday and Saturday.
Action begins Friday at 11 a.m. with the UTSA-Louisiana Lafayette game on Field 1. Texas State meets Memphis at noon on Field 3. Mississippi State plays UTSA at 2 p.m. on Field 1. Ohio squares off with South Alabama on Field 3 while Nicholls meets Chattanooga at the same time on Field 4.
Baylor meets ULL at 5 p.m. and Mississippi State at 8 p.m. on Field 1. The other two games Friday are Chattanooga-Ohio at 6 and South Alabama-Nicholls at 6.
David D'Aquilla, the Assistant Director of the Gulfport Leisure Services Dept., said that the estimated economic impact of the three-day tournament is $1 million. He said the estimate is based on a formula developed by Southern Miss, and is based on the number of people coming to the Coast per night and how long they would stay at local motels.
Louisiana-Lafayette, Nicholls State and South Alabama are the closest schools to the tournament in terms of proximity.
"This tournament is a chance to grow softball in Mississippi and particularly in South Mississippi,'' D'Aquilla said. "It is a step in that direction and a good first step. Fans who watch the (Women's) College World Series will get to see Division I softball up close and personal.''
Tickets are $10 a day or $20 for the weekend. Children 12 and under get in free. There will be "Meet and Greet'' stations around the Sportsplex where fans can meet and talk with players on the different college teams.