021418_JSU_Samford sb_001 tp.jpg

Jacksonville State's Hayley Sims watches her hit during the Gamecocks' home opener against Samford. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

JACKSONVILLE — Home is sweet for the Jacksonville State softball team, especially with that sweet new scoreboard beyond left field with video capability.

But home is even sweeter today for JSU, which gets to play a rare home date. The Gamecocks (7-12) will play a single game against Fort Wayne (7-12), a Summit Conference school based in Indiana.

By a quirk of the schedule, it’s one of only nine home dates this season for the Gamecocks, which includes four single games and five doubleheaders. And five of those home dates come in the last 11 days of the regular season.

The Gamecocks already have played one home date — a 3-2 win over Samford three weeks ago.

“We have great fans, and the atmosphere is incredible,” senior third baseman Caitlyn Sapp said before practice Tuesday afternoon. “We have the best fans around, and they bring so much energy. It’s awesome playing here, and I hope a lot of people come out to the game.”

Two years ago, JSU had 13 home dates, which included six doubleheaders for 19 total games. Last season, JSU had 12 home dates and 19 total games. That doesn’t include the early season Choccolocco Classic, which Southeast Missouri brought to Oxford. JSU played four games in that, but SEMO chose not to return with the event this year.

Part of the problem this year is the league schedule. Each of the 12 OVC teams plays every other squad in a doubleheader, and a year ago, JSU got to play six of those 11 doubleheaders at home. This year, it’s five at home and six on the road.

“The conference schedule is up to the conference,” JSU coach Jana McGinnis said. “For non-conference, we owed Alabama State a trip to their place. We owed Southern Mississippi to go to their place. They’re coming to our place next year. We’ve got more home games next year, but this year, it’s not as many.”

In addition, JSU is going to Western Kentucky after hosting the Hilltoppers a year ago.

It doesn’t help that the Gamecocks have made it tough on teams that travel to Jacksonville. Last year, the Gamecocks beat SEC tournament champion Ole Miss by a run at home. They went to Ole Miss later in the season and lost by only a run.

“We love home games,” McGinnis said. “Our players are like kids on Christmas morning. They’re so excited. For sure, we don’t take it for granted when we get to play at home.”

The Gamecocks have struggled so far this season, which comes after losing 10 players from last year’s team, including five All-OVC players. The 12 losses are one more than all of last season, but McGinnis said she saw clear signs of desire Sunday when JSU beat Radford 6-5 with a run in the bottom of the seventh in the Georgia Bulldog Classic.

The Gamecocks had lost all four of its games in the Classic, including two to host Georgia, until beating Radford.

“We were a totally different team Sunday,” McGinnis said. “I am proud of how we played. It’s frustrating to lose, and yes, it would’ve been easy to not play hard in that last game and go home. I worry about getting OK with losing, but our team showed that, no, they’re not OK with losing.”

Sapp said the players felt they weren’t playing badly but instead weren’t getting any breaks. Before the Sunday morning game against Radford, they gathered and spoke about how they needed didn’t need to focus on anything but playing hard for each other that day.

She called it a “really great feeling” to see that mindset produce a win after four straight losses.

“We’re focusing on getting better every single day,” Sapp said. “That’s our goal — one, get better, and two, win the game.”

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.