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Saints Will Lock Into Their Game Plan to Succeed Over Hope International in Semifinals of the NAIA Opening Round

Saints Will Lock Into Their Game Plan to Succeed Over Hope International in Semifinals of the NAIA Opening Round

SAN ANTONIO (May 14, 2024) – Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) won the second game of the NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round that began on Monday. The top-seed Saints faced fourth-seed Cottey College and won 4-0 with Cassandra Valdez pitching a one-hitter. The game was preceded by the matchup between second-seed Hope International University and third-seed Evangel University that saw Hope winning 3-0. The Saints will now face Hope at 2:30 p.m., while Evangel will take on Cottey at noon.

The three-day tournament is held at the St. Mary's University Softball Field, less than three miles from OLLU's campus.

Head Coach Bruce Lenington commented, "This game will feature two NAIA All-American pitchers from 2023. We'll really need to lock in to our game plan and be stubborn in our approach to be successful."

Saints overview

The Saints are 51-3 on the season and were runners-up in the Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) Championship Tournament after capturing the regular-season title with a perfect 24-0 record. This year, they received the No. 1 rank in every regular-season NAIA Softball Coaches' Poll.

After losing to Central Washington in early February, the Saints went on a 45-game win streak before losing twice to LSU-Alexandria in the conference tournament.

The Saints are led by Cassandra Valdez, who has 58 runs, four triples, 14 home runs, 43 walks and 28 stolen bases. She also leads the team in OBP with .526 and SLG with .811. Kayla Dreese leads the Saints in hits with 58, in doubles with 14 and batting average with .436. Natalie Rodriguez leads the team in RBIs with 44.

Cassandra Valdez has an ERA of 0.64, which is the second-best in the NAIA. She has logged 10 shutouts, three saves and a record of 24-1. She has 237 strikeouts. Ava Hernandez has an ERA of 1.41 with a record of 19-2. She has eight shutouts and 99 strikeouts.

Overall, the team stats are as follows:

50 games (four were forfeit wins, so 54), 1215 at-bats, 337 runs, 439 hits, 86 doubles, 13 triples, 49 home runs, 149 walks, 122 stolen bases and 93 strikeouts. Their team ERA is 0.94 (second best in the NAIA), and their fielding percentage is .980 (first in the NAIA).

Head Coach Bruce Lenington is in his fifth year with the Saints encompassing an overall record of 185-56. His first season was canceled due to COVID-19, and in 2021, his team finished as RRAC semifinalists. In 2022, the Saints won the regular and postseason, and played in the NAIA Opening Round. Last year, Lenington's team was the regular and postseason champions, won the NAIA Opening Round title and played in the program's first-ever NAIA World Series.

Royals overview

The Royals, from Fullerton, Calif., returned to the San Antonio bracket for the second year in the row. Last season as the second seed to OLLU's top seed, the Royals were one game away from making their first trip to the NAIA World Series, but the Saints prevailed. The team finished the regular season third in the Golden State Athletic Conference with an overall record of 35-15. They fell to Jessup in the conference tournament in the semifinals.  They received at At-Large bid to the opening round.

The Royals are led by Emma McCraw, who is batting .356 and has four home runs, 31 RBIs, a slugging percentage of .500 and 23 walks. Asia Chacon leads the team in hits with 53, runs with 34, doubles with nine and triples with four. Arely Coronado has the most stolen bases with 17.

On the pitching side, the Royals are led by Allie Puente, who has a record of 26-12 and an ERA of 1.26. She has 302 strikeouts – first in the NAIA.

Overall, the team stats are as follows:

50 games, 1367 at-bats, 221 runs, 391 hits, 56 doubles, 11 triples, 13 home runs, 160 walks, 111 stolen bases and 147 strikeouts. Their team ERA is 1.93, and the fielding percentage is .975.

Alx Mascarenas is in his second year with the Royals. The team qualified for the NAIA Opening Round in 2023, 2021, 2019 and 2018. His record with the Royals is 76-31.

Tournament details

Day two will feature Evangel vs. Cottey (Game Three) at noon, followed by OLLU vs. Hope (Game Four) at 2:30 p.m. and the winner of game three vs. the loser of game four (Game Five) at 5 p.m. On May 15, the winner of game four will play the winner of game five at noon, and an "if necessary" game will take place at 2:30 p.m.

The San Antonio Bracket is one of only two brackets featuring four teams; the eight remaining host cities will feature five teams. The winners of each bracket will advance to the 43rd Annual NAIA Softball National Championship, which will be held May 23-29 at the South Commons Complex in Columbus, Ga.

For information on the tournament, including links to stats and live-streaming, photos and purchasing advanced tickets, visit the NAIA Opening Round Page.