URG to face Central Methodist in NAIA tourney opener

By Randy Payton - For Ohio Valley Publishing

RIO GRANDE, Ohio — The University of Rio Grande softball team will start its hunt for a national title as part of the Auburn-Montgomery Bracket in the 2016 NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round.

The pairings for the 10, four-team regional sites were announced Tuesday night by the NAIA national office.

The third-seeded RedStorm (40-7) will face No. 2 seed Central Methodist (Mo.) University (41-16) at 4:30 p.m. EDT, while No. 1 seed and two-time defending national champion Auburn-Montgomery (48-6) meets fourth-seeded Lourdes (OH) University (18-28) in the 7 p.m. EDT nightcap of the regional on Monday, May 16, at the AUM Softball Complex.

The winner’s bracket final and a pair of elimination games are slated for Tuesday, May 17, while the championship first final – and a second final, if necessary – will take place on Wednesday, May 18.

Aside from Lourdes, all three teams are currently ranked in the NAIA Top 25 – Auburn-Montgomery is No. 2, Central Methodist is No. 19 and Rio Grande is No. 21.

Rio Grande punched its ticket to the double-elimination tournament for the second straight year by winning the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament crown with a pair of victories over Indiana University-Southeast on April 30 in Owensboro, Ky.

The RedStorm, which has tied the single-season school record for wins, is one of only two KIAC programs – IU Southeast is the other – in the tournament field, which includes 31 automatic qualifiers and nine at-large selections.

Rio Grande is making its third trip to the national tourney overall. In addition to the 2015 berth, the school was also part of the field in 2004 as the champion of the now-defunct America Mideast Conference.

That season, the then-Redwomen lost their opening game against Brescia (Ky.) in Decatur, Ala. before posting consecutive wins over No. 10 North Georgia, St. Xavier (Ill.) and No. 11 St. Scholastica (Minn.). However, Rio saw its season end with a school-record 40 wins in its fifth game of the tournament – a 3-2 loss in nine innings to No. 6-ranked Columbia (Mo.).

Last year, the RedStorm upended top-seeded Campbellsville University in the opening game of the South Carolina-Beaufort Regional in Hardeeville, S.C. before falling to second-seeded host USC-Beaufort and dropping a one-run decision in a rematch with Campbellsville.

The 10 opening round site winners will advance to the 36th Annual NAIA World Series, which is slated for May 27-June 2, at Morningside College’s Elizabeth & Irving Jensen Softball Complex in Sioux City, Iowa.

Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.

By Randy Payton

For Ohio Valley Publishing