The championship began this morning with No. 7 seed Auburn Montgomery (Ala.) and No. 10 Spring Hill (Ala.) facing each other. That game was the first of 19 games (which includes the “if necessary” game May 30). This format is a first in the 33-year history of the event. Most recently from 2005-12, the championship format included pool play and pool play champions advanced to double-elimination action.
The first contest pitted two teams out of the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC). Auburn Montgomery holds a 3-2 mark against the Badgers this season. The last meeting went in favor of Spring Hill, 3-0, on May 3 in the SSAC Tournament.
In the second game of the day, No. 8 Reinhardt (Ga.) takes on No. 9 Saint Xavier (Ill.) at 1 p.m. Reinhardt is playing in its third national championship, while the Cougars compete in their sixth overall and first since 2009.
Eight of the 10 teams this year are returners from the 2012 national championship, including national runner-up Oklahoma City. The Stars are the No. 4 seed and tangle with No. 5 Cal State San Marcos Friday at 4 p.m. in the third game of the championship. Oklahoma City owns the NAIA championship record for most titles (8), victories (110) and appearances (27).
Friday concludes with a 7:30 p.m. matchup of No. 3 Lee University and No. 6 Williams Baptist (Ark.). The Lady Flames lead the NAIA in batting average (.385) and hits per game (11.0). Pitcher Karisa Hendrix of Williams Baptist will try to tame that offense as she ranks No. 2 in the NAIA in opponent batting average (.146) and third in hits allowed per nine innings (4.56).
The top seed for the second-straight year is Concordia (Calif.) out of the Unaffiliated Group (California Pacific Athletic Conference / Golden State Athletic Conference. The Eagles have been the nation’s No. 1 ranked team in each of the past eight NAIA Coaches’ Top 25 Polls. They bring the longest win streak into the championship with a 15-gamer and stand 48-3 overall. Behind the pitching of Katie Cotta, who has a NAIA-record 11 career no-hitters, the team is No. 1 in the NAIA in team ERA (0.53). Concordia is in action Saturday at 7 p.m. and takes on the winner of No. 8 Reinhardt (Ga.) and No. 9 Saint Xavier (Ill.).
No. 2 Lubbock Christian (Texas) joins Concordia with the bye as the Lady Chaps play Saturday at 4 p.m. They will face the winner of the Auburn Montgomery and Spring Hill contest. Lubbock Christian is one of two teams in this year’s field to own a national title (2008). With the most wins on the year in the NAIA (58), the Lady Chaps are tops in country in stolen bases per game (3.8). The 254 total stolen bases is a new NAIA single-season record.
The SSAC hails the most programs of any conference in the 10-team field: No. 3 Lee, No. 7 Auburn Montgomery and No. 10 Spring Hill. Overall, six conferences and one Unaffiliated Group (Cal Pac / Golden State) are represented in Columbus.
The Columbus Sports Council is the host and the event will be contested in the Peach State for the first time in championship history. Prior to this year, two cities in Alabama hosted the event since 2000, with Gulf Shores welcoming the teams in 2011 and 2012.
NeuLion, the NAIA’s official video-streaming company of 18 select NAIA national championship events, will be broadcasting all 19 games. Single day packages can be purchased for $9.95, while an all-Championship pass is available for $29.95.