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Raiders win it all

ASHLAND — His dramatic climb from worst to first in the books, Southern Oregon head coach Lynn Kennedy could finally let out a sigh of relief and give a nod to the player who was there through it all.

"Three years is a lot of hard work," Kennedy said. "Chelsey (Muri) and I have been through three years — a lot of recruiting, a lot of time and effort put into practices. To see it come to an end like this is exciting."

And it's not over yet.

Jacki Speer had 27 points and 10 rebounds and Whitney Scott added 20 points as the Raiders survived an off night by Muri, the Cascade Conference Player of the Year, to beat The College of Idaho in overtime, 82-72, Monday in the league tournament championship game at McNeal Pavilion.

The win clinched for Southern Oregon an automatic berth to the NAIA Division II national tournament, which tips off March 12 at Sioux City, Iowa.

Kennedy said the 18th-ranked Raiders (29-4) were already assured of an at-large berth and knew that going into the game, but they wanted to prove that they belonged anyway. Mission accomplished, despite the fact that Muri didn't start, played sick, and huffed and puffed her way through one of her worst games of the season.

"We were concerned, but we're not going to have her next year so we had to come out and really show the character of our team," said Speer, who hit 11 of 19 shots to help the Raiders survive a woeful 36-percent shooting night. "She did her thing, but we all came together as a team."

That almost wasn't enough against the Coyotes (20-10). The tourney's No. 3 seed led for most of the second half and had a chance to put the second-seeded Raiders away in the final seconds of regulation before finally running out of gas in overtime.

SOU outscored the fast-breaking visitors 13-3 in the extra session, all but clinching the program's first conference title since 2003 on Scott's 3-pointer with 1:35 to go.

Scott hit 4 of 7 bombs and was one of the Raiders' few bright spots in the shooting department. Muri was 1-for-9 and fellow sharp-shooter Rhiannon Dickison was 2-for-16, including 1-for-9 on treys.

The College of Idaho was led by and Magen Dufurrena (16 points, seven rebounds) and Christon Vander Esch (16 points, six rebounds). ShaNae Horner added 14 points and four steals.

"They made a couple more shots down the stretch than we did," Coyotes' head coach Reagan Rossi said.

Josie Pugsley's fastbreak layup gave the visitors a 66-60 lead with 2:56 to go and they had a chance to extend it after Ashley Baker missed two free throws at the other end, but Speer grabbed the rebound and scored to spark a 7-0 Raider rally. Moments later, Muri came up with a steal and a three-point play, then hit two more free throws with 1:30 to go to give the Raiders a 67-66 lead.

The game was tied at 69 when a jump ball gave the Raiders possession and a chance at the final shot with 38 seconds left, but Coyotes' guard ShaNae Horner stole the ball from Muri. After a timeout, the 'Yotes went inside to Christon Vander Esch, who missed an off-balance shot in the key. SOU rebounded with five seconds left but Speer missed inside at the horn.

Overtime belonged to the Raiders. They took the lead for good on Scott's steal and layup at the 4:12 mark and made it 73-69 on a pair of Ashley Baker free throws. Dickison then drained a jumper and Scott hit a wide-open 3 for a 78-69 lead.

The "it's all over" chants followed; there were about 1,000 fans on hand, and many of them ran onto the court afterward for a group hug.

"We felt like it was going to come down to whoever executed the best would win," Kennedy said, "and in overtime, we did."

COLLEGE OF IDAHO (19-11, 14-6)

Clark 4-17 0-1 11, Kay. Brewer 1-4 1-1 3, Owen 2-5 0-1 4, Vander Esch 5-11 5-9 16, Dufurrena 7-15 2-2 16, Kat. Brewer 0-2 2-2 2, Rickman 1-1 0-0 2, Pugsley 2-5 0-1 4, Horner 6-8 1-2 14, Wolfe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 28-68 11-19 72.

SOUTHERN OREGON (29-4, 17-3)

Scott 6-11 4-4 20, Brookins 0-2 0-2 0, Cooper 0-1 2-2 2, Dickison 2-16 0-0 5, Speer 11-19 5-7 27, Smith 0-0 0-1 0, Muri 1-9 13-13 15, Wood 2-2 0-0 5, Baker 2-5 2-6 6, Scheffler 1-4 0-0 2. Totals: 25-69 26-35 82.

Halftime — COI 36, SOU 32. 3-point goals — COI 5-15 (Clark 3-8, Horner 1-2, Vander Esch 1-2, Owen 0-1, Dufurrena 0-1, Kat. Brewer 0-1), SOU 6-20 (Scott 4-7, Wood 1-1, Dickison 1-9, Brookins 0-1, Muri 0-2). Rebounds — COI 34 (Dufurrena 7), SOU 51 (Speer 10). Assists — COI 8 (Owen, Dufurrena 2), SOU 13 (Scott 4). Personal fouls — COI 29, SOU 18. Fouled out — Pugsley, Horner. A — 1,100.

Joe Zavala is sports editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 48203456, ext. 224, or e-mail joe.zavala@dailytidings.com

Coach Lynn Kennedy, left, and Southern Oregon players, from left, Carly Wood, Krystal Smith and Lindsey Scheffler react from the bench as the final buzzer sounds on the Raiders’ Cascade Conference title-clinching win over College of Idaho. - Orville Hector