VIENNA, W.Va. — What a difference a day makes.
After piling up 25 runs in a pair of wins on Friday, including a 13-0 mercy rule-shortened win over Indiana University Southeast, the University of Rio Grande managed just two runs in a pair of extra-inning outings on Saturday as the Grenadiers swept the RedStorm to claim the championship of the 2019 River States Conference Softball Tournament at Jackson Memorial Park.
IU Southeast, the tourney’s No. 2 seed, posted a 4-2 win in eight innings to force a second final in the double-elimination event and then won the crown with a 3-0 win in eight innings in the nightcap.
Top-seeded Rio Grande dropped to 34-14 with the losses – its first consecutive setbacks against conference foes since dropping four straight games at IU Southeast under the league’s old scheduling format on April 17-18, 2015.
The runner-up finish also snapped a streak of five straight conference tournament championships for the RedStorm.
The Grenadiers, who were facing Rio in the tournament title game for the fourth time in five seasons, improved to 32-23 with their second and third victories of the day. Head coach Joe Witten’s squad had reached the title tilt by defeating Point Park University in the loser’s bracket final earlier in the day.
Both the RedStorm and the Grenadiers will be representing the RSC in the NAIA National Tournament – Rio as the regular season champion and IU Southeast as the tournament champion. The complete tournament field will be announced by the NAIA on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Saturday’s first final saw Southeast cough up a pair of one-run leads before scoring twice in the eighth inning to secure the win.
The Grenadiers grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second on fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Ashtyn Sharp, but Rio Grande knotted the score in the bottom of the third on a run-scoring single by junior Lexi Philen (Tallmadge, OH).
IU Southeast regained the lead in the fifth on a two-out, pinch-hit single by Maggie Lubbehusen, but the RedStorm tied the game again in the bottom half of the frame when junior Michaela Criner (Bremen, OH) led off with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a single by freshman Taylor Webb (Willow Wood, OH).
That’s how things stayed until the top of the eighth inning.
Lubbehusen singled to left with one out and, one out later, pinch-runner Reecie Gilliam stole second. Morgan Keefer then drew a walk before Kaitlyn Flowers doubled home both runners to give the Grenadiers the lead.
Rio threatened in the bottom of the inning when sophomore Mary Pica (Minford, OH) began the inning with a walk and moved to third on a two-out double by sophomore Kayla Slutz (Navarre, OH).
The threat – and the game – ended moment later, though, when sophomore Morgan Santos (Dayton, OH) popped to third for the game’s final out.
Webb finished 3-for-4, while Slutz added a pair of hits in a losing cause for the RedStorm.
Senior Kelsey Conkey (Minford, OH) took the loss for Rio, allowing eight hits and walking two with four strikeouts in a complete game effort.
Southeast starter Becca Schoenung also went the distance, allowing eight hits and four walks while striking out two.
Lubbehusen and Keefer both had two hits for the Grenadiers, while Kyndyl Olds added a double.
The deciding game was a pitcher’s duel between Schoenung and Rio sophomore Raelynn Hastings (Commercial Point, OH) and remained scoreless until IU Southeast came to bat in the eighth.
Maddie Probus reached on a one-out single and Baylee Kreuger followed with a walk, setting the stage for a run-scoring single by Justice Kline.
A wild pitch by Hastings brought home Kruger with the second run of the inning and Keefer followed with a sacrifice fly to left to make it 3-0.
Schoenung routinely retired the side in order in the bottom of the inning to nail down the championship.
Schoenung scattered four hits and did not walk a batter in the complete game shutout. She struck out two.
Hastings allowed 10 hits and walked two in suffering a hard-luck complete game loss.
Pica had two hits, including a double, for Rio Grande, while Skeese also had a double.
Kline, Flowers and Schoenung all had two hits for the Grenadiers. Flowers’ hit total included a double.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.