The USC Beaufort Bracket of the NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round will open Monday at Richard Gray Sports Complex in Hardeeville.
The four-team, double-elimination tournament will feature two top-25 teams and three teams coming off conference tournament titles.
Host USCB enters the tournament ranked 16th in the NAIA and has earned the No. 2 seed in the bracket. The Sand Sharks, who won the Sun Conference Tournament title last weekend, will face No. 3 seed Indiana Wesleyan in the first game of the tournament at noon Monday.
The Wildcats have won a school-record 47 games and rolled through the Crossroads League tournament to bring a 10-game winning streak to the Lowcountry.
Seventh-ranked Campbellsville (Ky.) comes into the tournament as the No. 1 seed and will face No. 4 seed Rio Grande (Ohio), the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament champion, in the second game of the day at 3 p.m.
The winners of Monday's contests will square off at 11 a.m. Tuesday with the winner advancing to Wednesday's champion game.
The elimination bracket winner will then have to beat the championship bracket winner twice Wednesday to earn one of 10 berths in the NAIA Softball World Series, which will be played May 22-28 in Sioux City, Iowa.
USCB is a host site for the second time in the three years since the Opening Round format was adopted in 2013. The Sand Sharks reached the championship game in 2013 before losing twice to eventual national runner-up Spring Hill (Ala.).
The Sand Sharks are the only team in the bracket that has qualified for the national tournament under the new format.
A look at the teams:
No. 1 seed -- Campbellsville (Ky.) Tigers (34-8)
The Tigers have enjoyed one of the best season's in program history, climbing into the top 10 in the NAIA for the first time en route to their sixth Mid-South Conference regular-season title. They have gone 8-5 against opponents who are ranked or receiving votes with one of the losses coming against USCB at the NFCA NAIA Leadoff Classic in February.
The Tigers are powered by a dominant pitching staff that boasts a 1.56 team ERA and holds opponents to a .221 batting average. Junior Victoria Decker (18-3, 1.34 ERA), the Mid-South Conference Pitcher of the Year, anchors the staff, but freshman Neely Quint (16-5, 1.72 ERA) has been nearly as dominant.
Freshman SS Jacqueline Roof (.348, 7 HR, 29 RBIs), sophomore C Markie Smith (.326, 7 HR, 33 RBIs) and freshman OF Brianna Scott (.321, 7 HR, 24 RBIs) lead the offense.
STAT TO WATCH: The Tigers have allowed two or fewer runs in 26 of their 42 games. They are 24-2 in those contests.
No. 2 seed -- USCB Sand Sharks (40-12)
The Sand Sharks reeled off a school-record 19-game winning streak in March and April and won five straight elimination games to claim the Sun Conference Tournament crown last weekend. They have played a challenging schedule this season, going 8-9 against teams that are ranked or receiving votes including a 2-2 mark against teams currently in the top 10.
USCB boasts a powerful offense -- the team has hit .330 this season with 49 home runs. Junior OF Missy Hughes (.447, 29 runs, 18 RBIs) has been one of the primary table-setters with junior SS Haley Brown (.352, 13 HR, 42 RBIs) and senior 1B Maddie Byrd (.338, 13 HR, 51 RBIs) as the top run producers.
Senior ace Kristy Cook (24-4, 1.44 ERA) is enjoying another outstanding campaign and was named the Sun Conference Pitcher of the Year for the second time in her career. Cook surpassed 500 career strikeouts during the Sun Conference Tournament. Junior Ashlie Layman (12-7, 3.45 ERA) has been solid since returning from an early-season injury and was named NAIA Pitcher of the Week earlier this season.
STAT TO WATCH: Senior DP Taylor Triplett has had a quiet year at the plate by her lofty standards, batting .389 with four homers and 35 RBIs, but three of those home runs and 15 RBIs came last week in the Sun Conference Tournament, earning her NAIA Player of the Week honors.
No. 3 seed -- Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats (47-10)
The Wildcats enjoyed a program-best 25-game winning streak in March and April en route to the best season in program history, and their 10-game streak entering the tournament is the fourth-longest active streak in the NAIA.
Indiana Wesleyan can swing the bats, hitting .362 as a team and averaging 7.68 runs per game, which ranks seventh in the nation. Freshman 1B Alex Springer, the Crossroads League Newcomer of the Year, leads the potent offense with a .460 average, a school-record 18 home runs and 67 RBIs, and sophomore OF Sara Kreitzer (.404, 9 HR, 40 RBIs) provides another big bat in the lineup.
Freshman Haley Nixon (21-6, 2.01 ERA) anchors the pitching staff with junior Janessa Guevara (16-1, 2.31 ERA) and freshman Carlie Weaver (9-2, 2.84 ERA) also enjoying strong campaigns in the circle.
STAT TO WATCH: The Wildcats lead the NAIA with 111 doubles, including an NAIA-best 23 from Springer.
No. 4 seed -- Rio Grande (Ohio) RedStorm (31-14)
The RedStorm are making their second appearance in the NAIA National Championship and their first since 2004, and their 31 victories are the most since that 2004 squad won 40. The team won the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament in its first season in the league.
Junior C/1B Kim Rollins (.350, 8 HR, 35 RBIs), a first-team All-KIAC selection, and freshman C/DP Taylor Arndt (.389, 5 HR, 37 RBIs), a second-team pick, anchor the lineup along with another second-team honoree in sophomore 2B Alex Kuhn (.355, 22 RBIs).
Sophomore Jenna Jones (14-6, 1.68 ERA) is the ace of a deep staff, as four different pitchers have thrown at least 37 innings for the RedStorm.
STAT TO WATCH: Jones has thrown complete games in 18 of her 20 starts, including three shutouts.
The NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round
Monday-Wednesday, Richard Gray Sports Complex, Hardeeville
Daily tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Children 5 and under are free. Tickets are available at the gate at Richard Gray Sports Complex in Hardeeville.
The tournament schedule and results will be updated throughout the event on the Tournament Central page at uscbathletics.com/sbopeninground.