RIO GRANDE, Ohio — On a day when the University of Rio Grande celebrated the careers of four players prior to its River States Conference twin bill with West Virginia University-Tech, the RedStorm also got to do some celebrating afterward.
Head coach Chris Hammond’s club wrapped up the RSC’s regular season title, while securing the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament and punching its ticket to the NAIA national tournament with a sweep of the visiting Golden Bears, Thursday afternoon, at Rio Softball Park.
Rio Grande posted an 11-3 mercy rule-shortened win in the opener before recording a 5-1 victory in the nightcap.
The RedStorm, who entered the day needing just one conference win to secure the regular season title and earn a sixth straight trip to the national tourney, improved to 29-11 overall and 15-1 in league play with the sweep.
WVU-Tech saw its losing streak reach five straight games in dropping to 17-25 overall and 7-9 in the RSC.
The Golden Bears mounted a three-run third inning rally to take a 3-2 lead in game one, but Rio tied the contest with a run of its own in the home half of the inning before scoring three times in the fourth to regain the lead for good.
A five-run sixth inning invoked the mercy rule and ended the game.
Senior Kelsey Conkey (Minford, OH), junior Lexi Philen (Tallmadge, OH) and freshman Taylor Webb (Willow Wood, OH) all had two hits and a run batted in for Rio, while junior Michaela Criner (Bremen, OH) and sophomores Mary Pica (Minford, OH) and Kayla Slutz (Navarre, OH) both drove in two runs.
Webb and Criner both tripled.
Conkey went the distance in the circle to get the win, allowing five hits and three runs over six innings.
Jacey Bertalan had a two-out, two-run single for WVU-Tech in its three-run third inning, while Skylar Connelly also drove in a run.
Karina Atanacio started and took the loss for the Golden Bears, allowing four hits and six runs – four earned – over four innings.
Game two saw Rio sophomore starter Raelynn Hastings (Commercial Point, OH) limit the Bears to just three hits in a complete game effort. She walked one and struck out three.
One of the three hits was a third inning home run by Ashley Daniels which staked Tech to a 1-0 lead, but the RedStorm scored three times in the bottom of the inning to take the lead and added two more markers in the sixth to set the final score.
Criner finished 4-for-4 with a double, while Philen, Webb, Conkey and senior Carly Skeese (Newark, OH) all drove in runs.
Kacie Cahill accounted for the remainder of Tech’s hit total by going 2-for-3.
Amanda McDonald started and lost for the Golden Bears, allowing five hits, a pair of walks and three runs over 2-2/3 innings.
Rio Grande is scheduled to return to action next Wednesday when it travels to the University of Northwestern Ohio.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.