ASHLAND – The Southern Oregon University softball team's thorough ownership of the Cascade Conference is complete. The fourth-ranked Raiders left little room for drama in the regular season; there was even less in the CCC Championships presented by U.S. Bank.
Sunday afternoon's finale at University Field was an 8-2 victory over 10th-ranked Oregon Tech, making the Raiders' record-setting third consecutive tournament title look routine. They peppered 15 hits, went through three Owls pitchers and played dazzling defense behind junior Gabby Sandoval, who shook off some early struggles and worked around seven hits and two walks for her third complete-game win in as many days.
Allie Stines went 3-for-4 with a walk, Hannah Shimek drove in three runs with two hits, and Tiana Brown, Paige Leeper, Olivia Mackey and Hannah Wessel each enjoyed two-hit performances as the Raiders tallied runs in five separate innings.
Another day meant another milestone for Sandoval, too. On Thursday, she was named SOU's first CCC Pitcher of the Year since 2004; on Friday, she broke the conference wins record; on Saturday, she broke the conference shutouts record; and on Sunday, she joined two other pitchers in the NAIA's 30-win club.
"I'm really proud of the way our team came out to play this entire weekend," SOU head coach Jessica Pistole said. "We executed the little things and kept a consistent energy all three games regardless of who we were playing, who was pitching for the other team and what the situation was."
At 45-7, the Raiders will learn Tuesday which three teams will join them in the Southern Oregon Bracket for the 40-team NAIA Opening Round. They'll host their four-team, double-elimination affair May 13-15 at Medford's U.S. Cellular Community Park, with the winner advancing the play May 24-30 at the NAIA World Series in Springfield, Mo.
The Owls secured the CCC's second automatic Opening Round bid by defeating College of Idaho, 3-2, in an elimination game Sunday morning for the right to play SOU.
The Raiders wasted no time putting OIT on its heels. As the visiting team in the scorebook – they conceded the coin toss so they could bat first – they opened the game with an Allie Stines infield single and scored on Tayler Walker's lined double to the wall in center field.
The Owls strung together two hits and a walk in the bottom of the first, tying the score when Cierra Barks singled to center. But SOU came back with two more in the second as Leeper and Wessel led off with singles, were bunted over by Olivia Mackey and came home on Avery Morehead-Hutsell's sacrifice fly and another Stines hit.
Shimek added an RBI single in the fourth and Wessel a sac fly in the fifth. SOU opened it up in the seventh as five straight batters reached with two outs, and Morehead-Hutsell and Shimek put on the finishing touches with run-scoring hits through the infield.
OIT second baseman Kiahna Brown went 3-for-4 with a triple and both of the Owls' runs. Andrea Sotelo had two hits and an RBI.
The Raiders have defeated three different opponents in consecutive seasons for their titles, previously topping Corban and Eastern Oregon. They beat the Owls twice over the weekend, sending them to the elimination round Saturday with a 6-0 win, and went 6-0 against them this season.