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Raiders stopped by UGF in semifinals

ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University softball team was stopped Sunday morning in the semifinals of the Cascade Conference Tournament, and now the Raiders will have to wait a couple days before learning their NAIA postseason fate.

Great Falls' surprising run through the tourney went to a new level with its most clutch performance yet — a 3-2 comeback knockout of the Raiders that put the Argos in the championship round and guaranteed them a spot in the national tournament.

UGF (25-18), the No. 3 seed from the CCC's East Division, went on to drop the first game of the title round to Eastern Oregon (29-21), which was the East's No. 2 seed and won its first title. UGF and EOU took the CCC's two automatic bids to the NAIA's 40-team Opening Round, the complete field for which will be announced Tuesday.

The Raiders (36-16) are in good position to take an at-large bid to the tournament. SOU hasn't appeared in national postseason play since 2006.

Argos pitcher Keeley Van Blaricom didn't allow an earned run in her five-hitter, but four errors had her team down 2-1 going into the sixth inning. In the top half, she helped herself: Hali Gruntowicz led off with a single before Van Blaricom split gap in left-center field for a double that plated the tying run. Then, with two outs in the top of the seventh, Alex Lowry hit a single and Gruntowicz found the gap in right-center with a lined double that scored Lowry from first, making it 3-2.

The defense did come through for Blaricom to get the last three outs. SOU's Aaliyah Oliver, a speed centerfielder, led off with a single but was cut down by third baseman Chloe Cross at second when Kelsey Randall tried to bunt her over. After Alexa Gonzalez's single put runners at first and second with one out, Kayleen Smith hit a grounder to shortstop where Larson fielded, stepped on second and gunned to first for the final out.

Smith hadn't hit into a double play all season. Earlier in the game, she was caught stealing for just the third time in 46 attempts this season by catcher Jocelyn Kaufman.

SOU's Sydney White was the tough-luck loser. She allowed two earned runs in a complete game with four strikeouts and a walk.

The Raiders had taken a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Smith reached second on a pair of errors and Tyler Burke drove her in with an opposite-field single down the line in left field. They gave that run back, though, in the third when Alex Lowry's fly to center was dropped, allowing Kyra Dorvall to trot home.

SOU plated another unearned run in the fifth. With two outs, Randall singled and Gonzalez walked, and Smith's grounder to second was misplayed as Randall came home to make it 2-1.

The Raiders started the tourney with Friday's wild 12-11 loss to Eastern Oregon, but stayed alive Saturday with wins over Oregon Tech (4-2 in nine innings) and Corban (16-5 in five innings). Twenty-two of the 34 runs they scored during the tournament were unearned, but they totaled 38 hits in four games.