Rio Grande Sports Information
VIENNA, W.Va. - The University of Rio Grande spent its day making life tough on the two River States Conference schools located in Pittsburgh while, at the same time, putting itself within two wins of a tournament title.
The top-seeded RedStorm throttled No. 8 Carlow in its opening game before knocking off fourth-seeded Point Park University in the winner's bracket semifinals of the 2017 RSC Softball Tournament, Friday afternoon, at Jackson Memorial Park.
Head coach Chris Hammond's club rolled to a mercy rule-shorted 9-0 five-inning win over the Celtics, before defeating the Pioneers, 7-4, to earn a spot in Saturday's winner's bracket final in the double-elimination tournament.
Rio Grande, ranked No. 18 nationally in the latest NAIA coaches' poll, will face third-seeded Indiana University-Southeast at 10 a.m., with the winner advancing to the tournament championship game at 3 p.m.
The Rio-IUS loser will face the survivor of Saturday's 10 a.m. elimination game between No. 2 seed Midway and sixth-seeded Cincinnati Christian University in the loser's bracket final at noon, with the winner of that game moving into the title game.
A second championship game, if needed, would be played immediately following the first final at approximately 5 p.m.
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 an RBI bunt single, respectively, in the frame.
Rio added an 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.