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Raiders pull out opener at NAIA World Series

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Containing Southern Oregon’s pesky lineup has been a tall enough task for opposing pitchers in 2019. To do it while lending the Raiders extra outs, to this point, has proven impossible.

In its NAIA World Series opener, fourth-ranked SOU made Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) pay for two errors with four unearned runs in the first two innings and held on for a 4-3 defeat of the No. 5 Blue Raiders this morning at the Killian Sports Complex.

The Raiders (49-7) didn’t score an earned run for the first time this season but the middle of the order produced nonetheless in the team’s seventh consecutive postseason victory. Tayler Walker’s line-drive single — in an at-bat extended by a dropped foul ball — drove in two runs in the first inning, and Lauren Quirke’s well-placed double — preceded by a dropped throw to first with two outs — plated two more to make it 4-0 in the second.

Gabby Sandoval limited the damage against LWC’s high-powered lineup, which has hit home runs with greater frequency than all but one team in the country. With a seven-hit, 98-pitch complete game, she struck out two and used an error-free defense behind her to bump her record to 33-3 and establish a new SOU record for career victories with her 74th.

Potentially three wins away from a national title, SOU advanced to play at 8 a.m. PDT Saturday against the winner of a game between No. 1 Science & Arts (Okla.) and No. 8 Georgia Gwinnett. LWC (50-4) will play an elimination later today against No. 9 Vanguard (Calif.).

LWC ace Annabelle Ramirez, who entered the game with an 18-1 record, faced the minimum through her final four scoreless innings and sported an economic pitch count of 78. Her day got off to an inauspicious start, however, when SOU’s Allie Stines led off with a four-pitch walk and Quirke fouled off six consecutive pitches before singling up the middle.

With Stines and Quirk on second and third, Walker cashed in on her extra chance with her two-RBI hit to the opposite field. Hannah Wessel and Olivia Mackey started the second with back-to-back hits, but Ramirez appeared to have gotten out of the jam by inducing weak contact against the next three straight batters. The last was Hannah Shimek, who would’ve been retired on a grounder to third had Lauren Lett not dropped the throw to first. Instead of being out of the inning, Ramirez surrendered a blooped two-run double to Quirke before shutting the Raiders down.

The Blue Raiders cut the lead in half by stringing together four hits in the third, a rally punctuated by Callum Pilgrim’s two-run double. In the fourth, Harris took Sandoval deep to left field for her fifth home run.

Sandoval put two more runners on in the sixth but escaped trouble by getting Samantha Luckett’s groundout to end the inning. She retired LWC in order in the seventh, and Pilgrim’s pop-out in foul territory ended the game.

Sandoval, a junior, passed up Brandi Brown in the record book. Brown totaled 73 wins from 2001 to ‘03.

SOU’s defense has turned in a clean sheet in three of four national tournament games. It was a much cleaner start to the World Series than last year’s 10-6 opening loss to Marian (Ind.), during which the Raiders committed three errors.

They came back to win four consecutive elimination games, three short of winning the title. Despite a potential matchup with the top seed looming, their path now is considerably more favorable.

Win or lose Saturday, SOU won’t play again until Monday.