RAIDER ROUNDUP: SOU stuns EOU to clinch NAIA tourney bid
LA GRANDE — The visiting locker room at Quinn Coliseum hasn’t been the site of many Southern Oregon University celebrations in recent memory, so the Raiders took an extended moment Friday to soak in a night they won’t soon forget on their rivals’ home floor.
Four days and a couple of improbable turns of events after the Cascade Conference Championships presented by U.S. Bank began, SOU is moving on to March.
The Raiders punched their tickets to the CCC Tournament title game and the NAIA Division II National Tournament by knocking off 25th-ranked Eastern Oregon, 76-69 in the semifinal round, despite facing a 10-point deficit going into the fourth quarter.
They’d lost their first regular-season meeting against the Mountaineers by 23 points, and the next by 22. They hadn’t won in La Grande since 2014 and were down 59-49 after Taylor Stricklin’s 3-pointer beat the third-quarter buzzer, but executed a 15-2 run to start the fourth, where sophomore guard Dominique Harding pushed them with 10 of her 14 points.
SOU (20-9) will play 16th-ranked Northwest Christian at 7 p.m. Monday in Eugene for the title. Because the Beacons secured the CCC’s first national tournament bid by winning the regular-season title, the circuit’s second bid automatically goes to SOU by virtue of reaching the final.
“To get to experience that locker room tonight, that’s a special moment to see this group get rewarded in this fashion in a place where we haven’t won since I’ve been here,” said SOU’s Alex Carlson, who will take the Raiders to the national tournament for the fourth time in his five seasons as head coach.
If Tuesday’s game-ending run of 14 unanswered points to eliminate Warner Pacific in the quarterfinals elicited relief, this one sparked pure jubilation. While likely denying the Mountaineers (22-9) a fourth straight berth in the national field, the Raiders needed contributions up and down their lineup.
Junior guard Kenadee Honaker - in her second game back after missing five due to injury - scored 10 points in the first quarter, her highest single-game output since Jan. 4, to help neutralize EOU’s 6-of-8 display from 3 during the period. Sophomore guard Kalei Iwami stepped up by scoring 10 of her 15 in the second half, helping the Raiders claw back by connecting on 3-of-4 attempts downtown.
Syd’Nee Fryer started the fourth-quarter push by knocking down a 3 on the Raiders’ first possession, and she stared down a defender to hit the game-clinching triple with 34 seconds left, making it 74-69.
Back-to-back 3s from Harding and Kami Walk gave the Raiders their first lead since the opening stanza at 64-61 in front of a stunned crowd with 6:19 left. After EOU cut it to 66-65, Iwami hit another to extend the advantage to four with 4:02 to play.
“I think we’re in a place where our resiliency is really high right now,” Carlson said. “We just let them know there’s no 10-point plays and we have to do it a possession at a time, and we just continued to attack and made plays when we needed them. You can say there were five, six people making huge plays down the stretch and we needed all of them.”
Fryer finished with nine points and 12 rebounds, including five on the offensive end. Senior point guard Daranda Hinkey had nine points and four assists, hitting three 3-pointers as the Raiders finished 13-of-28 from deep. Harding also had six rebounds and four steals.
EOU, after shooting 10-of-24 from 3 through the first three quarters, went 1-of-9 in the fourth. Rachel Fielder and Jane Nelson scored 13 points each.
“I gotta commend our leaders, especially Daranda, doing everything you hope a senior will do in terms of pulling the team together, and the same goes for Delaney Sparling continuing to lead us even when her shots weren’t falling,” Carlson said. “They deserve to be rewarded for it.”
The NAIA DII Tournament will be held March 11-17 in Sioux City, Iowa, and the 32-team bracket will be revealed Wednesday. SOU will make its 12th overall appearance at the final site.
RAIDERS HAMMER MOUNTAINEERS: At Ashland, an afternoon at University Field was all Southern Oregon needed to get its offense rolling, as the No. 1-ranked Raiders debuted at home by beating Eastern Oregon 9-1 in six innings and 12-0 in five in a Cascade Conference doubleheader.
Abbie Lewis, a junior transfer from William Jessup, made a sharp first impression with five hits, four runs scored and four RBIs on the day from the top of the order. She went 3-for-4 while scoring three runs and driving home a pair in Game 1, and junior first baseman Tayler Walker powered SOU in Game 2 with a two-run home run — becoming the 10th player in team history to hit 10 career homers — and an RBI triple.
In improving to 17-3 overall and 5-0 in the CCC, the Raiders extended their home winning streak to 25 games dating back to last season. The Mountaineers dipped to 3-13 and 2-3 going into the series finales Saturday, which will start with another CCC counter at 11 a.m. followed by a nonleague contest.
SOU ace Gabby Sandoval went to 10-0 by allowing three hits and one run over five innings in the opener. She struck out seven without a walk before Hannah Stark came on to finish the job.
The Raiders were aided by five Mountaineers errors, which helped them score two in the first and three more in the third. Hannah Shimek went 2-for-2 with an RBI double and two runs scored, Lauren Quirke drove in two and Avery Morehead-Hutsell contributed an RBI triple and a run.
Taylor Dow knocked in EOU’s lone run with a sacrifice fly.
In Game 2, the Raiders poured it on with six runs in the six and six more in the second and totaled 15 hits in the game.
Walker’s third home run of the season — a two-run rope over the fence in left-center field — was bookended by two-run singles from Lauren Quirke and Morehead-Hutsell in the opening frame. Lewis, Walker, Paige Leeper and Lauren Weinberg added RBI hits in the second.
Quirke also tossed four dominant, shutout innings to secure her third win, striking out four with one walk while yielding three hits. Hannah Lilly took the fifth and struck out two Mountaineers in her perfect frame.