LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — To a large degree, Georgia Gwinnett College made its bones during the 2019 season with a potent offensive attack.
But the eighth-ranked Grizzlies have also shown a propensity to be timely at the plate as well.
In Wednesday afternoon’s championship first final of the NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round’s Lawrenceville Bracket, the University of Rio Grande learned the accuracy of the latter.
Sydney Pelaez delivered a one-out, run-scoring single in the bottom of the sixth inning to break a 2-2 tie and, one out later, Holly Janco drove home Pelaez with a back-breaking insurance run to give the top-seeded Grizzlies a 4-2 win over the No. 4 seed RedStorm at a sun-splashed Grizzly Softball Complex.
Georgia Gwinnett improved to 42-14 with the win – its second of the tourney and fourth of the season against Rio Grande – and earned a second straight berth to the NAIA World Series.
Rio Grande, which was making its second appearance in an Opening Round title game in three seasons, finished its season at 36-16.
The RedStorm grabbed a second inning lead when freshman Kenzie Cremeens (Ironton, OH) reached on a one-out single, moved to second on a two-out passed ball and scored on a single to right-center by sophomore Kayla Slutz (Navarre, OH).
Sophomore Tammy Hesson (Point Pleasant, WV) followed with a double to left-center – her first extra-base hit of the season – to score freshman Paige Probasco (Sugar Grove, OH), who was running for Slutz, to make it 2-0.
Georgia Gwinnett knotted the score in the home half of third against Rio senior starter Kelsey Conkey (Minford, OH).
RaeQuinn Rossetti reached on a one-out single and, on the same play, took second base thanks to a throwing error. Crystal Busbee followed with a walk, setting the stage for a run-scoring single by Sydney Willhite which sliced the deficit in half. Busbee scored the tying run moments later on a groundout by Tori Robinson.
Rio Grande’s hopes of regaining the advantage ran into some tough luck over each of the next three innings.
Senior Carly Skeese (Newark, OH) reached on a one-out single in the fourth and moved to second on a groundout by Slutz, but was left in scoring position when GGC starter Taylor Hansis struck out Hesson to end the inning.
Junior Michaela Criner (Bremen, OH) led off the fifth with a base hit, but was erased from the base paths shortly thereafter when fellow junior Lexi Philen (Tallmadge, OH) lined into a double-play at first base.
And in the sixth, Conkey reached on an error to open the inning, but was called out in a controversial decision trying to advance to third base on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore Mary Pica (Minford, OH).
The Grizzlies then came up with their dramatic rally in the home half of the inning.
Piper Wagner singled with one out and scored the go-ahead run on Pelaez’s double. Pelaez ended up a third base on the throw home and, one out later, scored when Janco beat out a slow roller to third base for an infield hit.
Aubree Cox followed with a walk and advanced to second on the back end of a double steal with Janco, but both were left stranded in scoring position when Criner made a diving catch of line drive off the bat of Rossetti.
Wagner came on in relief of Hansis for the seventh inning and routinely retired the RedStorm in order to earn her second save of the season.
Hansis improved to 25-7, allowing seven hits and a walk over six innings. She struck out six.
Conkey (16-6) allowed eight hits and two walks, while striking out five in a complete game effort.
Philen finished 2-for-3 in the loss.
Pelaez had two hits in the Grizzlies’ winning effort.
The loss marked the final game in a Rio uniform for Conkey, Skeese, Criner and sophomore Aubrey Azbill (Miamisburg, OH).
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.