HARDEEVILLE, S.C. — The University of Rio Grande parlayed strong pitching performances by Aubrey Azbill and Kelsey Conkey and the hot bat of Michaela Criner into a pair of 4-1 wins over the College of Coastal Georgia, Saturday afternoon, at the Richard Gray Sports Complex.
The RedStorm, ranked No. 23 in the NAIA preseason coaches’ poll, improved to 6-4 with the sweep.
The Mariners finished the day at 9-5 with the two losses.
Azbill, a freshman from Miamisburg, Ohio, shined in Saturday’s opener, scattering eight hits and three walks in her first collegiate start.
Conkey, a junior from Minford, Ohio, tossed a complete game two-hitter in the nightcap for her third win in four decisions. The right-hander walked two and struck out eight.
Criner, a sophomore from Bremen, Ohio, had three hits in each game, including a pair of home runs in the game two triumph.
Rio Grande grabbed a 1-0 first inning lead in the opening game when Criner led off with a single, moved to third on a wild pitch and a groundout and scored when senior Mallory Powell’s (Flatwoods, KY) routine two-out grounder to second base was booted for an error.
That’s how things stayed until the RedStorm mounted a two-out rally in the fifth inning.
Criner singled to left and scored on a double to left by sophomore Brooke Hoffman (Columbus Grove, OH). Hoffman reached third on a wild pitch and scored moments later on a single to center by Conkey.
Coastal Georgia got its only run in the bottom of the fifth when Savannah Money led off with a single and scored on a two-out hit by Kylie Young.
The Mariners, who stranded a pair of runners in both the third and fourth innings, put runners at second and third with one out in the bottom of the sixth, but Azbill recorded a popout and a groundout to end the threat.
Rio tacked on an insurance run in the seventh when Hoffman and Conkey reached on consecutive one-out singles and Hoffman eventually scored when Mary Pica’s two-out grounder to third was errored.
In addition to Criner’s three-hit outing, Hoffman and Conkey both finished 2-for-4 in the win.
Breanna Wells and Kelsey Solomon had two hits each in a losing cause for Coastal Georgia. Emily Mason started and took the loss for the Mariners.
Rio also grabbed a first inning lead in game two thanks to an RBI single by Powell, but Coastal Georgia tied it in the bottom of the inning on a solo home run by Bri Lewis.
Criner put the RedStorm ahead to stay with a solo homer of her own in the third inning and set the final score with a two-run blast – her fourth of the season – in the fifth inning.
Hoffman added two hits in the game two victory.
Lewis had both hits for the Mariners.
Chloe Boulineau started and took the loss for Coastal Georgia, allowing eight hits and the four runs over 4-plus innings.
Rio Grande is scheduled to return to action on March 6 at Bryan College.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.