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NAIA Opening Round brackets announced, SOU to face Simpson (Calif.) on Monday

ASHLAND — The Raiders have known for nearly two weeks where they are going to be playing their NAIA Opening Round games.

On Tuesday, they found out who they will be playing.

The four-team Southern Oregon Bracket and the rest of the 40-team field has officially been announced by the national office, and will see the top-seeded Southern Oregon University softball team — which is again ranked No. 8 nationally in this week’s NAIA Coaches Poll — host Northwestern (Iowa), St. Francis (Ill.) and a familiar non-conference foe in Simpson (Calif.).

The three-day tournament will start on Monday, May 14, at U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford, with the Raiders looking to book a trip to the NAIA World Series for the second consecutive season.

Opening Monday’s schedule will be an 11 a.m. matchup between No. 2 seed St. Francis (38-7 overall) and third-seeded Northwestern (35-11), followed by Southern Oregon facing Simpson.(34-20) at 1:30 p.m.

SOU is one of four teams from the Cascade Conference to make the national tournament. Eastern Oregon, which SOU beat in the conference tournament title game this past Sunday, received the CCC’s other automatic bid, while both Corban — last season’s national runner-up — and Oregon Tech both got No. 2 seeds in the Bowling Green Bracket and Lawrenceville Bracket, respectively.

Under the direction of head coach Jessica Pistole, the CCC’s 2018 Coach of the Year, the Raiders claimed both the league’s regular-season and tournament title and enter the NAIA Opening Round with a 44-12 overall record.

If they advance to the NAIA World Series — which will again be played in Clermont, Florida, starting on May 25 — they will surpass last season’s win total of 46.

This is the Raiders’ third straight appearance in the NAIA Opening Round, which adopted its current format in 2013.

Like SOU, St. Francis — which is ranked 15 nationally — won both its regular-season and conference tournament titles, going an impressive 21-1 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Northwestern advanced to the NAIA Opening Round by virtue of capturing the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament, winning the best-of-three series over Midland (Neb.).

Simpson, one of Southern Oregon’s regular non-conference opponents, clinched a spot in the NAIA Opening Round when it won the Cal Pac Conference regular-season and tournament titles.

The Raiders are 16-22 all-time against the Red Hawks. Southern Oregon claimed wins over Simpson in all three of the two schools’ meetings this season, with the Raiders outscoring the Red Hawks 24-9 over that span.

Southern Oregon has never played either St. Francis or Northwestern.

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.