LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — Following his team’s game against Milligan (Tenn.) University on Monday in the Lawrenceville Bracket of the NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round, University of Rio Grande head coach Chris Hammond said he felt like a football coach whose team was locked into one three-and-out after another.
And rightfully so.
Hammond’s RedStorm managed just three hits and struggled to mount any serious offensive threat in a 4-0 loss to the Buffaloes at Georgia Gwinnett College’s Grizzly Softball Complex.
Rio Grande, the No. 2 seed in the four-team bracket, slipped to 45-15 with the loss and will face fourth-seeded Georgetown (Ky.) College in an elimination game on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.
Milligan, the No. 3 seed, improved to 30-7 and will meet top-seeded Georgia Gwinnett — which defeated Georgetown, 5-1, in Monday’s opener — in Tuesday’s winner bracket final at noon.
The winner will play for the bracket title and an NAIA World Series berth on Wednesday, while the loser will square off with the Rio-Georgetown survivor in another elimination contest on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Monday’s loss marked just the fifth time in its 60 outings this season that the RedStorm failed to score a run. Ironically, four of the shutouts have occurred in the state of Georgia and three of those four have come in Lawrenceville.
“We just couldn’t get anything going offensively. We didn’t hit the ball sharply,” Hammond said. “It’s hard to do anything when you only get three hits.”
Milligan scored what proved to be the only run it would need in the top of the first against Rio freshman starter Sydney Campolo (New Lexington, OH).
Grace Jones led off with a walk, but was forced out at second on Katie Cronin’s fielder’s choice grounder back to the pitcher’s circle.
April Alvarado bunted Cronin into scoring position and Neelee Griffith extended the inning with a two-out walk before Kate Pendleton lined a single to right to plate Cronin with the game’s first run.
The Buffaloes threatened again in the third inning by loading the bases with no outs, but Campolo retired each of the next three batters — beginning a stretch of 10 straight batters retired — to end the threat.
Campolo’s streak ended when Pendleton doubled down the left field line with one out in the sixth inning. She scored moments later on a single to right by Savannah Nocera.
Milligan put the game out of reach in the seventh inning with a pair of unearned runs which scored on a one-out single to right by Cronin, who entered the contest as the nation’s leading hitter with a .568 batting average.
While the Buffaloes played add-on over the final two innings, Rio Grande had just four baserunners against MU starter Erin Forgety the entire day.
Junior Taylor Webb (Willow Wood, OH) doubled with two outs in the first inning, freshman Caitlyn Brisker (Oak Hill, OH) drew a two-out walk in the third, junior Kenzie Cremeens (Ironton, OH) singled with one out in the fourth and junior Shelby Schmitt (Fairfield, OH) doubled off the glove of Milligan right fielder Halie King — who nearly made a dazzling catch — with one out in the sixth.
Only Schmitt made it beyond second base.
Forgety earned her 13th win in 17 decisions and finished with four strikeouts — three of which came in the first inning.
Cronin and Pendleton each had two hits in the winning effort for the Buffaloes.
Campolo pitched well enough to win, but lost for just the seventh time in 27 decisions. The right-hander allowed five hits, two walks and two earned runs over six innings, while walking three and striking out six.
Links to live video (on a pay-per-view basis) and a free audio webcast of Tuesday’s action can be found at www.rioredstorm.com
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.