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Saints Softball Faces Hope In NAIA Opening Round Championship Game

Saints Softball Faces Hope In NAIA Opening Round Championship Game

SAN ANTONIO (May 15, 2024) – Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) defeated Hope International University 1-0 to advance to the finals of the NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round. The top-seed Saints faced second-seed Hope with Cassandra Valdez scoring the only run and pitching a gem to help secure the win. The game was preceded by fourth seed Cottey College beating third seed Evangel University in an elimination game. Cottey then faced Hope and lost 9-0 to end its season. The Saints will now face Hope in the championship match. OLLU must win one game against Hope to capture the title, while Hope must win two games to claim the championship.

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, "Hope International represents the biggest challenge of the season. We are going to show up, play for each other and leave it all on the field."

Saints overview

The Saints are 52-3 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 59 runs, four triples, 14 home runs, 45 walks and 29 stolen bases. She also leads the team in OBP with .528 and SLG with .805. Kayla Dreese leads the Saints in hits with 58, in doubles with 14 and batting average with .430. Natalie Rodriguez leads the team in RBIs with 44.

Cassandra Valdez has an ERA of 0.61, which is the second-best in the NAIA. She has logged 11 shutouts, three saves and a record of 25-1. She has 246 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:

51 games (four were forfeit wins, so 55), 1231 at-bats, 338 runs, 440 hits, 86 doubles, 13 triples, 49 home runs, 151 walks, 123 stolen bases and 101 strikeouts. Their team ERA is 0.92 (second best in the NAIA), and their fielding percentage is .981 (first in the NAIA).

Head Coach Bruce Lenington is in his fifth year with the Saints encompassing an overall record of 186-56. 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 36-16. 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 .358 and has four home runs, 32 RBIs, a slugging percentage of .497 and 24 walks. Asia Chacon leads the team in hits with 54, runs with 32, 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 27-13 and an ERA of 1.23. She has 314 strikeouts – first in the NAIA.

Overall, the team stats are as follows:

53 games, 1413 at-bats, 230 runs, 405 hits, 57 doubles, 11 triples, 13 home runs, 114 walks, 77 stolen bases and 157 strikeouts. Their team ERA is 1.89, and the fielding percentage is .976.

Alex 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 77-32.

Tournament details

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.