For the University of Rio Grande softball team, the River States Conference Tournament ended the same way that the regular season did – with a title.
The top-seeded RedStorm rebounded from a loss to third-seeded Indiana University Southeast in the first game of the championship series — not to mention an early deficit in the winner-take-all second final — to defeat the Grenadiers, 5-3, in the championship game of the double-elimination tourney, Saturday afternoon, at Jackson Memorial Park.
Rio Grande, which began the day with a 7-0 win over IUS in the winner’s bracket final before dropping a 5-1 decision to the Grenadiers in the first championship game, improved to 45-8 with the victory.
Head coach Chris Hammond’s squad now waits to learn the identity of its first-round opponent in the upcoming NAIA National Tournament. The tourney pairings will be announced on Wednesday.
IU Southeast, which closed the tournament at 28-21, also earned a spot in the national tournament as the RSC tourney runner-up as a result of Rio Grande capturing both of the league’s automatic bids as the regular season and tourney champions.
The Grenadiers took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Justice Kline led off with a walk and eventually scored on a two-out wild pitch by Rio sophomore starter Kelsey Conkey (Minford, OH).
However, the RedStorm tied the game in the bottom of the inning on a home run by Conkey — her fifth longball of the tourney and 12th of the season and then took the lead for good in the third inning thanks to an RBI single by junior Tayler Arndt (Clyde, OH) and a bases-loaded walk to sophomore MacKenzie Nichols (Columbus, OH).
Arndt added another run-scoring single in the fourth and junior Gabby Gregg (Ashville, OH) tacked on a RBI hit in the fifth to make it 5-1, but IUS sliced the deficit to 5-3 on a one-out home run by Sydney Seger in the sixth.
Conkey rebounded, though, to record the final two outs of the sixth and got the final two outs in the seventh after Clara Shean had reached on a single to seal the win.
Freshman Michaela Criner (Lancaster, OH) went 4-for-4 and scored twice in the win, while Arndt and Conkey finished with two hits each.
Conkey allowed four hits and two walks while striking out five in a complete game effort. The win was her 21st in 22 decisions this season.
Emily Hollis had two of the four hits for IU Southeast, while Emily Weiss started and took the loss for the Grenadiers.
IUS forced the second final by virtue of a 5-1 in the first title game. The Grenadiers scored once in the second inning to take the lead and added four more markers in the fourth.
Rio avoided a shutout in the seventh inning when senior Cheyenne Hamaker (Hilliard, OH) led off with a double and scored on a two-out hit by senior Alex Stevens (Oak Hill, OH).
Becca Schoenung earned her fifth win in six decisions for the Grenadiers, scattering eight hits and a walk in a complete game effort.
Senior Jenna Jones (Lancaster, OH) started and took the loss for the RedStorm, snapping a personal 12-game winning streak. She allowed seven hits and five runs – four earned – while walking one and fanning two over 4-1/3 innings.
Stevens, Arndt, and Hamaker all had two hits in the loss for Rio Grande.
Kline went 3-for-3, while Hollis had two hits for the Grenadiers.
The first of the three meetings on the day saw Rio Grande strike for four runs in the first inning and never look back.
Conkey tossed a two-hitter and struck out six en route to the shutout while helping her own cause with a home run, a double and three RBI.
Arndt had three hits, including a pair of doubles, and drove in a run, while Criner went 2-for-4 and Hamaker had a double and a run batted in.
Weiss started and lasted just two-thirds of an inning, allowing three hits, two walks, and four runs.
Rio advanced to the championship bout by making life tough on the two River States Conference schools located in Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon to come within two victories of winning the tournament championship that they would ultimately obtain.
The top-seeded RedStorm throttled No. 8 Carlow, 9-0, in its opening game before knocking off fourth-seeded Point Park University, 7-4, in the winner’s bracket semifinals of the 2017 RSC Softball Tournament on Friday afternoon at Jackson Memorial Park.
In Friday’s opener against Carlow, the RedStorm sent 13 batters to the plate in a seven-run first inning and never looked back.
Sophomore MacKenzie Nichols (Columbus, OH) had a two-run double and junior Gabby Gregg (Ashville, OH) had a two-run single to highlight the opening inning uprising, while junior Tayler Arndt (Clyde, OH) and senior Cheyenne Hamaker (Hilliard, OH) added a sacrifice fly and a RBI bunt single, respectively, in the frame.
Rio added a RBI single by senior Kari Jenkins (Jackson, OH) in the second inning and a solo home run by sophomore Kelsey Conkey (Minford, OH) in the third inning to set the final score.
Conkey earned her 19th win in 20 decisions in the circle, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out four en route to her eighth shutout of the year.
Nichols finished with two hits and freshman Michaela Criner (Lancaster, OH) had a double in the winning effort.
Nicole Hall started and took the loss for Carlow.
Against Point Park, Conkey stole the spotlight at the plate by going 3-for-3 with a pair of home runs and five RBI. Her three-run home run highlighted a four-run first inning and her two-run blast in the fifth gave Rio a 7-2 advantage.
Arndt had a run-scoring single in the first which preceded Conkey’s three-run circuit clout off Pioneer pitching ace Ashley Iagnemma.
Point Park sliced the deficit in half against Rio senior starter Jenna Jones (Lancaster, OH) thanks to a two-run home run by Jess Beitler in the fourth inning, but the RedStorm got a sacrifice fly by Criner in the home fourth and the second long ball by Conkey in the fifth to take a five-run cushion.
The Pioneers scored twice more in the sixth thanks to an error and a run-scoring fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Amber Cook but got no closer as Jones retired the side in order in the seventh to seal the win.
Jones improved to 12-3 with the win, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out three in a complete-game effort. One of the four runs she surrendered was unearned.
Arndt finished 2-for-3 in the win for Rio.
Iagnemma, who had a 1.44 earned run average and a .159 opponents’ batting average entering the post-season, gave up a season-high eight hits and seven runs – six of which were earned – in the loss for Point Park.
Becca Babinchak added a double in a losing cause for the Pioneers.