SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The fourth-ranked Southern Oregon University softball team is potentially two wins away from an NAIA World Series title and will try to move one step closer Monday at 5 p.m. Pacific Time when it faces No. 3 Oklahoma City at the Killian Sport Complex.
Before the Raiders (50-7) and Stars (59-6) match up for the right to a spot in the final, here's what you need to know:
1. The game will be carried on ESPN3, ESPN's online streaming service, for those with cable login credentials. ESPN3 will also broadcast the final series, which is scheduled for a 3 p.m. PDT first pitch on Wednesday with Game 2 at 6 p.m. if necessary. The same broadcasts, along with all remaining tournament games, will still be available at the NAIA portal. Fans in Ashland can watch at Northwest Pizza & Pasta Company, Oak Tree Northwest Bar & Grill or RedZone Sports Bar N' Grill.
2. Over the last 10 years, the team that advanced to the final through the winner's bracket has won the championship nine times. Oklahoma City was the exception in 2016. The SOU-OCU loser will play at 5 p.m. PDT Tuesday against one of the four remaining teams in the elimination bracket: No. 1 Science & Arts (Okla.), No. 2 Marian (Ind.), No. 5 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) or No. 8 Georgia Gwinnett. Whoever comes out of that matchup would have to defeat the SOU-OCU winner twice for the title.
3. SOU and OCU met last year on one of the most bizarre days/nights/early mornings in tournament history. After 12 hours of rain delays in Clermont, Fla., their elimination game was pushed back to a 10:30 p.m. start time. The Raiders knocked out the Stars, 3-2, behind Gabby Sandoval's third consecutive complete game, as Tayler Walker drew a bases-loaded walk that forced in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning. That set up SOU's elimination-bracket final – a 6-2 loss to Columbia (Mo.) that clocked in with a 1:09 a.m. first pitch and didn't end until 2:55 a.m. The Raiders also saw OCU during their first World Series trip in 2017 and dropped a 4-0 decision in their second game of the tourney.
4. At 34-3, Sandoval is tied for the 14th-most wins in NAIA single-season history. She needs one more to move to the top of this year's leaderboard. During this postseason, she's 7-0 with a 1.21 ERA in 52 innings and is fresh off her 15th shutout, a four-hitter in Saturday's 4-0 win against Science & Arts. She's allowed two or fewer earned runs in 26 of 33 starts this season, and SOU is 26-0 in those games.
5. The arm of Sandoval's likely Stars counterpart, junior Jaden Shores, has been equally reliable. Shores (31-4, 1.31 ERA) blanked OCU's first two World Series opponents, Valley City State (N.D.) and Marian, and has yielded five earned runs over 28 innings in national postseason play. She started and pitched 4 1/3 innings against the Raiders last year, giving up two runs (one earned) and taking a no-decision.
6. OCU catcher Jaci Smith possesses the most cartoonish batting stats in the country: 28 home runs, 25 doubles, 117 RBI (an NAIA record), a .495 average and a 1.076 slugging percentage. She's 7-for-16 with eight RBI since the start of the Opening Round. As a team, the Stars bat .403 and lead the NAIA at 8.5 runs per game.
7. The Raiders have won 10 in a row and the Stars 15 straight heading into the matchup. Four of the Stars' six losses this year were dealt by Science & Arts, though they defeated the Drovers, 1-0, in the Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament championship.
8. If the season ended today, SOU would have three .400 hitters: Lauren Quirke (.449), Allie Stines (.420) and Olivia Mackey (.401). There have been eight previous .400 hitters in Raider history, but only two in the same year (Strohm Fouty and Meghan Laughlin, 2009). Quirke has hit safely in all five games since the start of the Opening Round with four extra-base hits, six RBI and six runs scored; Stines is 11-for-26 with eight runs in the postseason and Mackey is 9-for-20. Tiana Brown also has 10 postseason hits, and Tayler Walker leads the team with nine RBI.
9. With early strikes in their first two World Series games, the Raiders are now 43-1 when taking a lead into the fifth inning, and 80-2 since the start of last year. They turned three errors into six unearned runs against Lindsey Wilson and Science & Arts and have committed just one error over their last five games, turning in their sharpest defense of the season. After being charged with four errors on April 19 against Science & Arts, the Stars have totaled two in 13 games since.
10. The Stars are the most decorated team in the field with 10 championships in the last 28 years, including the 2016 and 2017 titles. SOU is attempting to become the third Cascade Conference team to ever make the final, and the second to win it.