VIENNA, W.Va. — In Saturday’s winner-take-all second final of the River States Conference Softball Championship, the University of Rio Grande rallied late around a pair of unlikely heroines.
Cierra Clark hit a two-out, tie-breaking home run — the first of her collegiate career — in the bottom of the sixth inning and Caity Moody survived a pair of late scoring threats by Indiana University Southeast as the RedStorm held off the Grenadiers, 6-5, at Jackson Memorial Park’s Dave Patterson Field.
The RedStorm, the tourney’s top seed as the league’s regular season champion, upped their record to 45-14 with the win.
IU Southeast, which won the conference’s West Division and was the tourney’s No. 2 seed, slipped to 45-16 with the loss.
The Grenadiers, who forced the second championship game by defeating Rio earlier in the day, 4-3, in the first final, had thoughts of rallying for a sweep when Erin Templeman clubbed a two-out, three-run home run to knot the score at 5-5.
Brooklyn Gibbs followed with a walk and moved to second on a single by Lindsey Nelson, prompting Rio Grande head coach Chris Hammond to lift freshman starter Sydney Campolo (New Lexington, OH) in favor of Moody.
Moody, a Xenia, Ohio freshman who’d made just seven appearances in the circle all season, retired Kelsey Warman on a flyball to left to end the inning and keep the game tied.
IU Southeast’s Hannah Ogg, who took over for Gibbs in the circle in the third inning, retired the first two batters in the home sixth before Clark — a freshman with no previous home runs to her credit- clubbed the first offering from the RSC Pitcher of the Year over the left field fence to give the RedStorm the lead.
The Grenadiers got back-to-back singles by Ellie Jackman and Dallas Henderson to open the seventh inning, but Moody got Macie Link to hit into a fielder’s choice and leave runners at the corners before striking out Maddie Probus and inducing Katie Templeman to hit into a game-ending groundout.
The deciding game became necessary after IU Southeast held off a late Rio rally in the opener.
The Grenadiers scored a first inning run and then added three fourth inning markers to take a 4-0 lead.
Rio Grande scored twice in the sixth inning and got a one-out solo home run by freshman Caitlyn Brisker (Oak Hill, OH) — the league’s Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year — to slice the deficit to one, but Gibbs fanned junior Shelby Schmitt (Fairfield, OH) and retired junior Taylor Webb (Willow Wood, OH) on a groundout to nail down the victory.
Brisker finished 2-for-3 for Rio Grande.
Reecie Gilliam finished 3-for-3 with a run batted in for IUS, while Warman was 2-for-2 with two RBI. Gibbs and Henderson also had two hits each in the winning effort.
IU Southeast reached the championship by outlasting sixth-seeded West Virginia University-Tech, 5-4 in nine innings, in the loser’s bracket final.
Probus connected for a one-out homer in the bottom of the ninth inning — her first longball of the season — to give IUS the walkoff win.
The victory also guaranteed IU Southeast a trip to the NAIA national tournament, since Rio Grande had already earned one of the conference’s qualifying bids as the regular season champion.
The RedStorm and the Grenadiers will learn where they’ll be heading for the Opening Round of the national tourney on Tuesday night during the NAIA Softball Selection Show at the NAIA’s Facebook page.
The selection show is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.