PERKINSTON -- Mississippi Gulf Coast is making its first appearance in the MACJC baseball playoffs since 2013.
Bulldogs coach Rodney Batts sees a first-round playoff matchup at East Central as a good start, both short term and long term.
"Our ultimate goal here to win a national championship," he said. "Anytime you fall short of that, in my mind, it's a disappointing year.
"But it's a process. First step is getting in the playoffs. It means a lot to this program and these guys, and it means this program is going in the direction I want it to go. It kind of changes the attitude around here."
The sixth-place Bulldogs (25-19) face the Warriors (19-9) in a best-of-three series starting Friday at 6 p.m. Game 2 will be Saturday at 2 p.m., with a third game, if necessary, following 30 minutes following.
Winners of the four best-of-three series will feed into the MACJC Tournament, to be played at the highest-remaining seed's home field starting May 12.
Gulf Coast swept East Central during the regular season. The Bulldogs did so largely on the strength of their pitching staff, both starters and relievers.
Dylan Mills-Derouen threw a no-hitter, winning 2-0 in the second game. That came after Irby Dossett had pitched 5.1 innings of two-run in the opener.
Destin Aime and Brandon Kennedy shut out the Warriors the rest of the way as the offense picked up the winning run in the sixth of a 3-2 game.
The staff, under pitching coach Eric Ebers, finished with a 3.47 ERA in MACJC play, second best in the conference.
"Any team, your strength needs to be the pitching staff," Batts said. "It's a great testament to Coach Ebers and what he's done with these guys bringing them along. Pitching has been the strong suit the last two-thirds of the year. They're throwing as well as anybody in the state. They're the main reason we are where we are."
The long-term benefits of the season's results will be revealed on the recruiting trail, where prospects usually first ask how a school did the previous year.
And taking more steps can only help.
"Now we can say we're in the playoffs," Batts said. "Hopefully, after this weekend, we'll be able to say more than that."
Gulf Coast softball faces LSU-E: No. 3 Mississippi Gulf Coast gets very little time to process Wednesday's disappointment loss in the MACJC Tournament finals ahead of the NJCAA Region 23 version.
The Lady Bulldogs (45-5) play host LSU-Eunice (51-5) at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
"It's a huge, quick turnaround after the state tournament, that's for sure," Gulf Coast coach Kenneth Long said. "We just have to put everything behind us and focus on that first game, which is the No. 1 team in the nation."
The first round of the tournament begins at 1 p.m., when No. 5 Jones (42-6), which won the state title, plays No. 10 East Central (43-9).
LSU-E is batting .400 as a team, led by Darby Bishop who is hitting .484 with 10 home runs and 74 RBI. Rebecca Skains is hitting .478 with 20 home runs and 70 RBI.
The Lady Bengals have a 2.75 ERA, compared to Gulf Coast's 0.98. Kaitlin Lee's ERA stands at 0.67, and she stands to see the bulk of the work in Louisiana.
The Lady Bulldogs are batting .368, with Hannah Melendrez and Lexie Mathis both hitting .448. Melendrez is riding a 12-game hitting streak.
The top two teams from the Region 23 tournament advance to the national championship in Clinton, Miss., which will be played May 18-21.
"I like the way this team competes," Long said. "We didn't' make ourselves any breaks during the tournament, but we played really hard.
"Sometimes you've got to take a step back and look at what we've accomplished so far. I'm proud of this team, but I don't think we're done. I think we're going to come out and play really well."