RIO GRANDE, Ohio — The University of Rio Grande will look to strengthen its hold on the No. 4 seed in the upcoming Mid-South Conference tournament while, at the same time, taking aim at one of the top three spots when it hosts Bluefield College on Friday and the University of Pikeville on Saturday at Rio Softball Park.
First pitch for game one of the twinbills is set for 2 p.m. each day.
Rio Grande enters the weekend at 22-13 overall and 14-10 in the MSC, resting three games behind third place Campbellsville University and one game in front of fifth place Cumberland University.
Head coach Kristen Bradshaw’s squad opened a 10-game homestand on Wednesday with a doubleheader sweep of the University of the Cumberlands, winning by scores of 4-0 and 5-0.
Pikeville finds itself battling for the eighth and final spot in the upcoming MSC Tournament with current No. 8 St. Catharine. The Bears, who are coming off a doubleheader sweep of Bluefield on Monday, are 13-22 overall and 9-17 in league play and trail the Patriots by one game.
Bluefield is the only MSC school officially eliminated from post-season play. The Rams, who have lost 15 straight games - 10 of which have been via the 8-run mercy rule - are 3-39 overall and 1-27 against conference foes.
Rio Grande is led offensively by sophomore Kim Rollins (Cincinnati, OH), who is hitting .316 with eight doubles, seven home runs and 31 runs batted in. Freshman Jenna Jones (Lancaster, OH) is hitting .299 with four home runs and 20 RBIs, while freshman Cheyenne Hamaker (Hilliard, OH) also has eight doubles to go along with a conference-best 27 stolen bases.
The hottest bat for the RedStorm, though, belongs to junior Haley Gwin (Troy, OH), who has emerged from a season-long slump by going 12-for-23 (.522) with two doubles, three home runs and six RBIs over her last nine games.
Jones and fellow frosh Tiffany Bise (Circleville, OH) provide the 1-2 punch for Rio in the pitcher’s circle. Jones is 12-9 with a 2.59 earned run average in 19 starts, while Bise is 10-3 with a 3.15 ERA in 18 overall appearances.
Bluefield, which has been outscored 326-72 this season, is led offensively by the trio of Aline Uehara (.323, 2 HR, 6 2B, 10 RBI), Kasey Holcomb (.306, 34 H) and Morgan Stephens (.286, 3 HR, 14 RBI).
Brianna Sparks has appeared in 20 games for the Rams as a pitcher - including 18 starts - and sports a 2-16 record with a 6.80 ERA.
Pikeville has a quartet of regulars hitting .300 or above. The group includes Taylor Weeks (.350, 41 H, 28 R), Emily Castle (.320, 2 HR, 21 RBI), Hollie Hinkle (.319, 7 2B) and Courtney Morgan (.306, 10 2B, 2 HR, 26 RBI).
The Bears’ top two pitchers are Rio Grande transfer Sydney Morris (9-10, 4.32 ERA, 128.0 IP) and Lauren Barnes (2-9, 6.50 ERA, 60.1 IP).
Rio Grande swept both of their earlier doubleheaders on the road, topping Pikeville 2-0 and 7-3 on March 21 and defeating Bluefield 2-0 and 5-4 one day later.
Technology permitting, there will be live video and play-by-play of both doubleheaders at www.ihigh.com/redstorm beginning at 1:50 p.m. each day.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.