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Raiders sweep Mounties, close in on CCC title

LA GRANDE — The Cascade Conference softball title race will come down to the final day of the regular season, and thanks to another Gabby Sandoval masterpiece and more clutch hitting, No. 8 Southern Oregon is still in the driver’s seat.

On Friday at Eastern Oregon’s Peggy Anderson Field, Sandoval’s second consecutive two-hit shutout made the Raiders 1-0 winners in Game 1 and Harlee Donovan’s tiebreaking two-run single in the fifth inning led to an eventual 6-1 win in Game 2 over the Mountaineers. Going into today’s finales — the final game on the CCC slate at 11 a.m., and a nonleague counter to follow — SOU (40-11 overall) stands at 21-5 in the circuit.

Corban (21-5 CCC) and Oregon Tech (20-6 CCC) kept the pressure on with sweeps of their own. If SOU and Corban finished tied, the Raiders own a head-to-head tiebreaker and would take the No. 1 seed to host next weekend’s CCC Tournament. In the less likely event of a three-way deadlock, the tiebreaker advantage would belong to Corban.

SOU and EOU’s final conference counter will undoubtedly be decided by another duel between the teams’ aces, Sandoval and Hailey Kline. In the first, neither pitcher allowed an earned run: The Raiders squeezed the only run across in the second inning against Kline, when singles by Rebecca Velasquez and Hannah Wessel set up Olivia Mackey’s two-out at-bat, and an error on her fly ball to left field allowed Paige Leeper (who had reached on a fielder’s choice) to score.

It became the fifth consecutive start by Sandoval (19-5) decided by one run. In the last three, the Raiders have scored the deciding run unearned.

Since April 9, Sandoval, a sophomore, has allowed four earned runs in 46 2/3 innings of work, dropping her ERA to 1.82. She’d never thrown a two-hit shutout until last Saturday, and now she owns a pair. In the latest, she gave up two hits (both singles) with two strikeouts and no walks, retiring the final nine Mountaineers she faced.

Freshman Allie Hancock (9-1) and sophomore Karlee Coughlin combined on a seven-hitter in Game 2, with Coughlin finishing up the last three innings. Singles by Avery Morehead-Hutsell and Kelsey Randall to start the fifth, and an error that allowed them both to move up a base, preceded Donovan’s go-ahead hit.

In the sixth, Wessel and Mackey recorded back-to-back one-out hits. They moved over on a wild pitch, with Wessel later scoring on a Morehead-Hutsell RBI grounder that turned into an error, and Randall provided further insurance with a two-run double.

Randall’s hit made her the third player in team history to hit the 100-RBI milestone. Mackey and Morehead-Hutsell both went 2-for-3 with two runs scored.