Story by: Josh McDermott, SOU Sports Information Director
ASHLAND – Toria Bradford may be the only active player still around from the Southern Oregon team that thumped its way to the championship game of the Cascade Conference Tournament presented by U.S. Bank two years ago, but the senior guard has made sure little has changed since then.
Behind Bradford's 21 points, four assists and four steals, the 11th-ranked Raiders advanced to the title game for the third year in a row by defeating No. 17 Northwest Christian, 80-58, in a semifinal Friday night at Mountain Avenue Gym. SOU led for the final 35 minutes but outscored the No. 3-seeded Beacons 20-3 over the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter to turn a tight affair into a lopsided final.
The Raiders (27-3 overall), seeded No. 2, also clinched a spot in the NAIA Division II National Tournament for the fourth consecutive season. They'll visit No. 6 Eastern Oregon, the top seed, on Monday in a rematch of last year's championship game. But because the Mountaineers already secured the CCC's first automatic bid by winning the regular-season title, the second will go to SOU.
The Beacons (23-6) are likely to receive an at-large bid when the 32-team national tournament bracket is revealed next Wednesday. For the third time this season, however, they were broken by SOU's pressure defense.
The Raiders forced 24 turnovers and collected 20 steals compared to NCU's 10. Behind Bradford's four, Ariel Augustine and Remi Mejia had three apiece. That pressure helped keep the ball away from 6-foot-5 post Anamaria Virjoghe, who came into the night as NCU's top scorer but was held to five points on 2-of-7 shooting while also fighting foul trouble.
Mejia, SOU's leading scorer, had an atypically off night from the field at 4-of-14 for 16 points, but the Raiders shot 46 percent as a team, including 9-of-18 from 3, and went 19-of-22 at the line.
Daranda Hinkey hit 3-of-4 from downtown for 13 points off the bench, and Casey Williams came up big with 12 points, six rebounds and two steals. Augustine added 10 points and five boards.
Leading 53-48 with three minutes left in the third, Bradford sparked the Raiders with her only 3. Hinkey's final triple made it 69-55 with 6:18 left, and a minute later Williams came up with a steal and threw a bounce-pass down the floor for Hinkey's transition layup, extending the lead to 16. The celebration was on by the time Williams chimed in with her own 3 to make it 76-55.
Reserve post Hannah Eddens kept the Beacons close with a game-high 23 points, 15 of which were recorded at the free-throw line. Morgan McKinney contributed 10 points and three steals but was forced into nine turnovers.
The Beacons have committed 20-plus turnovers on four occasions this season – including three times against SOU.
SOU will be seeking its seventh title since the tournament began in 1995. The last one was captured in 2016, Bradford's first season with the Raiders, when they topped Oregon Tech and went on to make a run in the national title game.
Monday's championship will be broadcast live on ROOT SPORTS at 7 p.m. The network reaches approximately 3.2 million households across five states – Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska – and delivers more than 350 live events each year, all of which are available in high definition. Fans can use the Channel Finder at rootsports.com to find the channel in their area on cable or satellite television. The game will also be available on all digital platforms for ROOT SPORTS subscribers.