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SOU softball clinches conference title

LA GRANDE — When the season started three months ago, few questioned whether Southern Oregon had talent necessary to compete for a Cascade Conference title. The bigger question then, concerning the follow-up act to the Raiders’ first NAIA World Series appearance, was how a team that replaced six regular position players with all underclassmen might respond when its mettle was tested.

The No. 8 Raiders continued to answer resoundingly on Saturday afternoon as they captured their fifth CCC regular-season title, and second in three years, with a 5-1 win against Eastern Oregon at Peggy Anderson Field. SOU got the trophy outright, courtesy of Corban’s loss at Carroll (Mont.), and will host the six-team CCC Tournament next Friday through Sunday at University Field.

The Raiders (41-12 overall, 22-5 CCC) lost 3-2 in the finale of the four-game set, a nonleague counter, but finished the regular season with six consecutive CCC victories to edge Corban and Oregon Tech by one game in the standings. Their 12-0 record on the road in conference play will allow them to attempt to repeat as tournament champions at home, opening it at 2 p.m. Friday against No. 4-seeded Eastern Oregon (23-20, 15-12) or No. 5-seeded British Columbia (17-21, 14-13).

Their third straight win against the Mountaineers made sophomore pitcher Gabby Sandoval (20-6) the team’s first 20-game winner since 2009. Her eighth straight complete game was a six-hitter in which she struck out five and walked two, giving up her only run when Rayne Spencer hit a game-tying single in the third.

It was still tied in the fifth, 1-1, when freshman Taelor Mayben led off with a pinch-hit double. With two outs and Mayben’s runner, Avery Morehead-Hutsell, still at second, Harlee Donovan drove her in with a single to center that marked her fourth game-winning RBI in the last two weeks.

Freshman first baseman Tayler Walker went 3-for-3 with a pair of runs scored and her second home run of the season, a solo shot to make it 3-1 in the sixth. In the seventh, Kelsey Randall hit an RBI triple and scored on the same play on an obstruction call. She and Paige Leeper had two hits each.

In Game 2, Karlee Coughlin was working on a shutout with one on and two outs in the seventh inning. A walk of Lena Richards triggered her exit and a Sandoval save attempt, but the first batter she faced, Maryssa Santi, launched a three-run homer to left for the win.

The Raiders had gone up 1-0 in the sixth. With runners on first and second, Tiana Brown hit a grounder that was thrown away by the shortstop, enabling Walker to come home.

SOU’s defense was sturdy again, committing one error on the day. The Raiders had a total of one error in their final six conference contests, finishing with 26 in CCC play compared to opponents’ 54.

They hosted the CCC Tournament for the first time in 2016 and won it for the first time last year, when Corban was the host. The tournament hosts won the title the first three years it was played, 2010-12, but haven’t claimed it since.

Track and Field

OREGON STATE HIGH PERFORMANCE MEET: At Corvallis, the Southern Oregon University women squeezed in one more school record before the postseason, and it doubled as their eighth automatic-qualifying mark for the NAIA Championships.

The Raiders’ 4x400-meter relay team of Arianna Daniel, Brooke Carson, Savannah Greenwade and Loghan Sprauer was responsible for delivering it in 3 minutes 50.82 seconds, which edged Oregon State’s quartet by four-hundredths of a second for the win. Their previous best this season was 3:55.33 – they needed 3:55 or better for the NAIA ‘A’ standard – and the previous school record, established last season by a team that also included Daniel and Greenwade, was 3:51.15.

SOU now holds the No. 5 spot on the NAIA performance list, along with the top spot on the Cascade Conference performance list by a margin of over 10 seconds.

The Raiders’ 4x100 team of Daniel, Greenwade, Margot Hamman and Lindsey Bonney just missed a season best in 47.67, but already owned an ‘A’ standard coming into the day.

Daniel PR’d in the 100-meter dash in 12.20, the third-fastest time in school history and the second-fastest time in the conference. She finished fifth of 16, while Hamman (12.41) took seventh.

Lauren McGowne, in the high jump, accounted for another PR. She went 5 feet 3 ¾ inches — her previous best was 5-3 — to place third of 15 and break a tie atop the CCC performance list.

The CCC Championships, slated for May 11-12 in Hermiston, are next for the Raiders. Two weeks after that, they’ll be at the national meet.