HATTIESBURG, Miss. — One obvious takeaway after watching Southern Oregon's freshman pitchers operate over the first two days of the NAIA Opening Round is that the Raiders' future is promising.
Another, after surviving two win-or-go-home games in a row on Tuesday afternoon? Their present has never been better.
SOU is two wins away from reaching the NAIA World Series for the first time, the results of elimination-game defeats of fourth-seeded Indiana University Southeast, 11-2, and top-seeded and seventh-ranked William Carey (Miss.), 3-0, at Fail Field. Karlee Coughlin (16-2) tossed a four-hitter in the opener for her fourth consecutive postseason complete game, and Gabby Sandoval (14-6) executed her fourth shutout of the season against the pod hosts.
The 20th-ranked Raiders set a new school wins record, going to 42-13 overall, and will play No. 22 Southeastern (Fla.) at 9 a.m. Pacific Time Wednesday, needing to defeat them twice to secure the Hattiesburg Bracket title. The Fire took a 1-0 decision against SOU in the bracket opener Monday and also started Tuesday's action by defeating WCU, 3-2.
In addition to the stingy pitcher performances, the top third of SOU's lineup — comprising shortstop Kelsey Randall, second baseman Kayleen Smith and catcher Harlee Donovan — continued its menacing ways by going 13-for-20 with 10 runs scored and seven RBI on the day. Randall hit two triples (bringing her SOU-record total to 10 this season) and Donovan celebrated her birthday with a pair of clutch doubles (helping bring her SOU-record RBI total to 58).
Against IU Southeast (28-23), the Raiders produced 14 hits and scored twice in the first, twice in the second and twice in the fourth innings. Randall and Donovan had three hits apiece, Smith had two and cleanup hitter Tyler Burke went 2-for-5 with an RBI in the Raiders' four-run seventh inning, while Aaliyah Oliver scored two runs.
Following her stellar start against Southeastern, Coughlin took the ball again and delivered her 14th complete game with four strikeouts and no walks. In 28 postseason innings, she has a 1.00 ERA with 10 strikeouts and two walks.
Sandoval took on William Carey (43-11), which was vying for its fourth World Series appearance in five years. She calmly scattered seven hits, struck out two and walked two in her first postseason start.
In the bottom of the third, the Raiders gave her a lead as Randall hit a one-out triple and Smith blooped an RBI single that landed just inside the foul line in shallow right. Oliver and Randall then set the table with singles in the fifth and, after Smith bunted them into scoring position, Donovan made WCU pitcher Rachel Hickman (20-7) pay with a double driven to deep right-center that plated them both.
Sandoval wiggled out of trouble a few times — first in the fourth, when the Crusaders loaded the bases. With one down, Randall gathered Caitlyn Castille's grounder and got the force-out at home before Sandoval got Mary Blair Odom to fly out lazily to left. Down 1-0 in the fifth, they had runners at first and second who were stranded by a Catelyn William popout, and in the sixth, they had a runner on first erased when Kaitlyn Thompson's liner to third was snagged by Coughlin, who fired to first for the inning-ending double play.
The Raiders played error-free defense. In six postseason games, they've committed three and have yet to allow an unearned run.