Eight of South Mississippi's softball programs advanced through last week's play-in round of the MHSAA state playoffs.
Those teams will be joined by another eight teams coming off of byes as the first round of the playoffs officially kick off this week.
Harrison Central- Ocean Springs
As one of the Coast teams coming off of the play-in bye, Harrison Central (17-3) will look to begin its march back to Jackson against Coast foe Ocean Springs.
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The two teams squared off twice this season, with the Red Rebelettes earning 2-1 and 12-1 victories.
Despite the second outcome, coach Jimmy Parker cautioned his team not to overlook the Lady Greyhounds (13-8-1), who are coming off of a first-round sweep of Meridian.
"They'll be ready," he said. "They swing the bat better than they have in a couple of years."
Having won the last two Class 6A titles, the Red Rebelettes know what it takes to get to Jackson. One key is not to look ahead but focus on the task at hand.
"As you go through the playoffs, everyone thinks they can advance," Parker said. "(You have to take it) one game at a time. You can't play the second until you play the first.
"If you start looking ahead you'll get beat. I truly believe that."
HCHS is hitting .314 as a team with 18 extra-base hits and 42 stolen bases in 50 attempts. The Red Rebelettes have rotated three pitchers this season with a staff ERA of 1.04.
"Our pitching will carry us. That's our strong point," Parker said. "When you get into the playoffs you have to start hitting the ball. Our top and bottom of the lineup have done a good job of getting on base, but the middle has to step up for us to win."
The series opens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Ocean Springs. HCHS will host Game 2 at 5 p.m. Thursday.
The Lady Hornets (15-3) are rested up after earning a play-in bye. They'll begin their Class 4A title hunt at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Moss Point (11-6-1).
Game 2 of the series is at Poplarville at 5 p.m. Thursday.
The Lady Tigers advanced to the first round by up-ending Richland.
"They're athletic and have some really good players," PHS coach Jonathan Ray said. "I had a chance to watch them in their play-in games and they're probably as good of a three-seed as there is in the playoffs."
Poplarville won its first eight games of the season and enters this week hitting a whopping .364 as a team.
Freshman shortstop Rakeya Travis has been outstanding for Poplarville, hitting .519 with nine extra-base hits and six stolen bases.
"She's a good player," Ray said. "She's the catalyst. When she's going good we can be a tough team."
Looking ahead, Ray said if his Lady Hornets can keep things simple and play within themselves they have a good shot at advancing.
"We're complete. We don't have anything that's dominant but we play really good defense, throw strikes and have the ability to score runs," Ray said. "If we play fundamentally sound we should be OK."
St. Patrick- Choctaw County
The Lady Fighting Irish earned a play-in bye and will get things started Tuesday at Choctaw County (13-8) at 5 p.m. The series returns to the Coast at 5 p.m. Thursday.
After winning three straight Class 3A state championships, St. Patrick was eliminated early in the playoffs by Philadelphia last year.
Coach Tommy Castanedo said he hasn't mentioned last year to his team once. He hasn't had to, he said.
"They're hungry. They know what they're up against," Castanedo said. "Our group feeds off of each other, love one another and know no one person can get it done.
"In my six years, this has been my funnest team to coach. The way they communicate, hang out. ... They have a real sense of family with this group."
St. Patrick (24-1), which lost its first game of the season to Class 6A Oak Grove last week, has worked extensively on its infield defense ahead of this week's best-of-three series.
"They're very athletic," Castanedo said of Choctaw County. "I think the biggest thing for us is to make sure we execute. They slap bunt a lot to manufacture runs. Being athletic, they want the ball on the ground to cause chaos."
The other first-round series are: Biloxi vs. Oak Grove, St. Martin vs. Hancock and George County vs. Brandon in Class 6A; Pearl River Central vs. Pascagoula, Long Beach vs. Wayne County and West Harrison vs. Picayune in Class 5A; East Central vs. Newton County and Pass Christian vs. North Pike in Class 4A.