By Chad Waller, Director of Communications and Sports Information
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Opening Round Schedule) The inaugural NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round is set to begin Monday with 10 tournaments playing out. A total of 40 teams will participate in the double-elimination format with four teams at a different location. Sixteen programs return that participated in the 2012 Softball National Championship.
On Monday, the No. 1 seed faces the No. 4 seed at each site while the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds battle it out. The second day features three games and the third and final day has the championship game and “if necessary” contest.
The 10 Opening Round hosts announced on April 23 are: Belhaven University (Miss.), Concordia University (Calif.), Concordia University (Ore.), Lee University (Tenn.), Lindsey Wilson College (Ky.), Lubbock Christian University (Texas), Oklahoma City University, Park University (Mo.), Rogers State University (Okla.) and the University of South Carolina Beaufort.
The Sooner Athletic Conference (SAC) and Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) send four teams each to the Opening Round, which leads all conferences. Hailing from the SAC is Lubbock Christian, Oklahoma City, Rogers State and St. Gregory’s (Okla.). Auburn Montgomery (Ala.), Belhaven, Lee and Spring Hill (Ala.) represent the SSAC.
The SAC fields two programs that have won previous national championships: Oklahoma City (8) and Lubbock Christian (1). The Stars’ eight titles are the most in NAIA history with their last coming in 2007. Lubbock Christian hoisted the banner in 2008. No other 2013 participant has brought home the trophy.
Ranked No. 1 in each of the past eight Coaches’ Top 25 polls, No. 1 seed Concordia (Calif.) plays host to No. 2 St. Gregory’s, No. 3 College of Idaho and No. 4 Bethany (Kan.). The Eagles take on Bethany in the second game Monday at 3 p.m. PDT. Concordia is playing in the championship for the fourth time in the last five years.
Besides the most national titles in history, No. 1 seed Oklahoma City also boasts the most playoff wins with a 110-40 mark. The Stars punched their 28th championship ticket and are scheduled to face No. 4 seed Hastings (Neb.) at 3 p.m. CDT from Ann Lacy Stadium Monday. In the first game of the day, No. 2 Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) battles No. 3 Bellevue (Neb.).
Other No. 1 seeds include, Reinhardt (Ga.) in the Belhaven bracket; Saint Xavier (Ill.) in the Concordia (Ore.) Bracket; Lee as the Flames host from Cleveland, Tenn.; Auburn Montgomery in the Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) Bracket; Lubbock Christian as the Lady Chaps host from Lubbock, Texas; Cal State San Marcos in the Park Bracket; Williams Baptist (Ark.) in the Rogers State Bracket; USC Beaufort (S.C.) as the San Sharks host from Hardeeville, S.C.
Freed-Hardeman is one of seven newcomers to the 2013 field, joining Corban (Ore.), Cumberland (Tenn.), LSU Alexandria (La.), Rogers State, South Carolina Beaufort and Virginia Intermont. With the exception of the rookies, Marian (Ind.) and Spring Hill are snapping the longest absence from the postseason, with both clubs extending their campaign for the first time since 2003.
Overall, nine programs own at least 10-or-more championship victories. In addition, 12 teams have at least five postseason trips listed on their resume.
Each of the Opening Round winners will advance to the NAIA Softball National Championship final site in Columbus, Ga., May 24 – 30. The format in Columbus is a double-elimination, 10-team event on a single championship field. The bracket will be officially announced May 15 (late in the day).
NeuLion, the NAIA’s official video-streaming company of 18 select NAIA national championships, will be broadcasting all 19 games of the national championship final site in Columbus, Ga. Single day packages can be purchased for $9.95, while an all-Championship pass is available for $29.95. For more information, including how to test your computer and internet connection, click here.
For the complete schedule of all the Opening Rounds, click here.
For more information on the 2013 NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round, click here.
2013 NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round Facts
• Thirty-one teams earned automatic berths to the Opening Round field by placing first or second at their respective conference/independent/unaffiliated group tournaments or by winning a regular-season championship. An additional five at-large host berth selections and four at-large berths complete the list of qualifiers. The at-large berths were determined by the final Coaches’ Top 25 Poll announced May 7.
• Pairings for the Opening Round are based upon the following prioritized criteria: geographical location of teams, financial consideration and the final rating from the NAIA Softball Coaches’ Top 25 Poll released May 7. Every attempt is made to not pair Conference/Association of Independent Institutions/Unaffiliated Group teams, but this may be unavoidable.
• This Opening Round championship format is the first time in the history of the sport, which spans back to 1981. From 2005-12, the championship format included pool play and pool play champions advanced to double-elimination action.
• Ten teams will meet up in Columbus, Ga., at the South Commons Complex for a seven day, double-elimination national championship starting May 24. There are four games during the first three days (Sunday is off day); three games on May 28; two games on May 29; championship final on May 30 (if necessary game to follow).
• This is the first time the NAIA Softball National Championship final site will be hosted in the state of Georgia. Two cities in Alabama (Gulf Shores, Decatur) have hosted the event since 2000.
• The last five national championship finals have been one-run contests, including a 9-inning affair last year.
• Each of the past four seasons has seen a different national champion – this year’s event is guaranteed to do be the same as the 2012 champion is no longer in NAIA membership (Shorter (Ga.)).
• There has been parity in recent national championship action, as a new champion has been crowned in each of the past seven events.
• Currently, 197 NAIA schools sponsor a varsity softball program among a membership of nearly 300 colleges, universities and conferences.