LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — Top-seeded Georgia Gwinnett College spotted the University of Rio Grande a first inning lead before rallying late to post a 4-1 win over the fourth-seeded RedStorm, Monday afternoon, in the NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round’s Lawrenceville Bracket at the Grizzly Softball Complex.
The host Grizzlies, who are also ranked 8th in the latest NAIA coaches’ poll, improved to 40-14 with the win – their third in as many outings against Rio Grande this season.
The RedStorm slipped to 34-15 with a third straight loss – the first losing streak of three or more games in the tenure of current head coach Chris Hammond.
Rio Grande will face second-seeded – and 12th-ranked – Truett-McConnell (Ga.) in an elimination game tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. The Bears (42-10) suffered a 1-0 loss to No. 3 seed LSU-Alexandria in Monday’s first game.
Georgia Gwinnett and LSU-Alexandria will square off in the winner’s bracket final on Tuesday, at noon, with the Rio-Truett McConnell game to follow.
The winner of the Rio-Truett McConnell game will face the GGC-LSUA loser in the loser’s bracket final on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
The winner of Tuesday’s loser’s bracket final will face the GGC-LSUA winner on Wednesday in the championship round, with the winner advancing to the NAIA World Series.
Rio Grande grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning when junior Michaela Criner (Bremen, OH) led off with a single, took second on a sacrifice bunt, advanced to third as freshman Taylor Webb (Willow Wood, OH) reached on an error and scored on a single to right by senior Kelsey Conkey (Minford, OH).
Hopes for a bigger inning, though, failed to materialize.
Sophomore Mary Pica (Minford, OH) followed with a walk, but Webb – thinking the bases were loaded and she’d been forced home on the free pass to her teammate – wondered off the base before being thrown out retreating to the bag after realizing her mistake.
A wild pitch moved Conkey and Pica into scoring position, but Gwinnett starter Taylor Hansis fanned freshman Kenzie Cremeens (Ironton, OH) to end the inning.
Rio Grande advanced just runners beyond first base the rest of the game.
A two-out single in the second by sophomore Tammy Hesson (Point Pleasant, WV) and a subsequent walk to Criner put runners at first and second, but Hansis struck out junior Lexi Philen (Tallmadge, OH) to end the threat.
Criner led off the home fifth with a single, moved to second on a passed ball and took third on Philen’s second sacrifice bunt of the contest, but Hansis buckled down again and retired Webb on a groundout to third before striking out Conkey.
The Grizzlies, meanwhile, had tied the game in the top of the fourth on a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Sydney Peleaz before capitalizing on Rio’s inability to cash in on its scoring chance in the fifth by scoring twice in the sixth.
Tori Robinson singled and Piper Wagner drew a walk against Rio sophomore starter Raelynn Hastings (Commercial Point, OH) to begin the inning, prompting Hammond to replace Hastings with Conkey.
Peleaz then walked to load the bases, setting the stage for fielder’s choice grounder to shortstop by Elyssa Melton in which Robinson beat the throw home to give GGC the lead.
Conkey then recorded back-to-back strikeouts before issuing a walk to RaeQuinn Rossetti which forced in another run to make it 3-1.
The Grizzlies got their final run in the seventh when Robinson reached on a one-out walk, stole second and scored on a throwing error by Rio sophomore catcher Kayla Slutz (Navarre, OH).
Criner finished 2-for-3 in the loss for Rio.
Hastings was the RedStorm’s hard-luck loser, allowing six hits and three runs in five-plus innings.
Hansis picked up her 23rd win in 30 decisions, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out eight in a complete game effort.
Robinson had two of Gwinnett’s six hits as a team.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.