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Raiders sweep Yotes to take over first place in CCC

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ASHLAND — Southern Oregon head coach Jessica Pistole is never one to shy away from telling you just how confident she is in her pitching staff.

“I’d put our pitching staff up against anybody,” Pistole said without hesitation.

They did nothing to dismiss that line of thinking Friday.

Senior right-handers Gabby Sandoval and Lauren Quirke limited No. 23-ranked College of Idaho and its NAIA-leading offense to one of its lowest scoring outputs of the 2021 season, helping the top-ranked Raiders record 7-1 and 7-2 wins to sweep Friday’s doubleheader at University Field.

Entering Friday’s games, the Yotes’ offense was averaging over eight runs a game and was leading the nation in runs scored. But thanks to Sandoval and Quirke, College of Idaho managed to record just three runs on seven hits total.

“All week we were preparing to throw our pitch and make them chase what we want,” said Sandoval, who improved her record this season to 19-0 and recorded her 109th career win in the opener. “It was more about getting ahead and throwing our pitch so that we don’t have to throw to them.”

Friday’s sweep pushed the Raiders’ winning streak to 11 games, and more importantly allowed the defending national champions to leapfrog the Yotes into first place in the conference standings.

SOU (36-2 overall, 19-1 CCC) will take its one-game lead over C of I into today’s finale, with the Raiders having a chance to take all three CCC games from the Yotes (30-10, 18-2) as well as sweep the four-game series.

“It was never a question in our mind and we didn’t really care if they were No. 1 or we were No. 2. That was never really brought up,” said SOU outfielder Katrina Winterburn, who went 5-for-7 with a home run, a double and three runs scored in Friday’s doubleheader. “There was no question that we were going to be No. 1 after this. It was really good, it was really fun.”

Sandoval and Quirke, who entered the series ranked first and third in the CCC in ERA, respectively, were able to settle into nice rhythms after allowing early runs.

Sandoval allowed just three hits in her 18th complete game of the spring, lowering her ERA to 1.10. After allowing a second-inning solo home run to first baseman Tanner Higgins, Sandoval retired the next 10 hitters she faced and only allowed one runner to get into scoring position after the second.

Sandoval, the Raiders’ ace right-hander, struck out four and didn’t walk a batter.

Quirke only continued the impressive display in the circle. After allowing College of Idaho to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first of the nightcap, Quirke silenced the Yotes’ bats for much of the next six innings, allowing just two hits after the first inning and four overall.

Quirke didn’t walk a batter en route to a 12-strikeout performance, the second-highest single-game total she’s recorded this season.

“They came out with intention, they didn’t try to do too much or make anything bigger than it was,” Pistole said of Sandoval and Quirke. “They just attacked pitch by pitch. When they do that, I will put them up against anybody.”

“I think, for me, it was trusting my defense and they were making amazing plays behind me,” added Sandoval. “That gives me so much confidence to throw to my spots and attack and make them hit my pitches. I owe a lot to them because that was the case a lot of the time in my game. They were making crazy plays behind me.”

It didn’t hurt that SOU’s offense, one that has the highest batting average in the NAIA, was once again proving to be quite the complement to the Raiders’ talented pitching staff.

The Raiders trailed for all of half an inning Friday, with their offense providing early runs as well as clutch hits to back their starting pitchers.

SOU finished with 12 hits in the opener and eight in Game 2. Before Friday, College of Idaho had only allowed a double-digit hit total twice all season.

“That’s one of the marks of this team, when we’re on you don’t get a break,” Pistole said. “It’s not all the same, but you have players coming up one through nine that are getting in there and expecting to do something. It’s fun.”

SOU was able to build a 6-1 lead after the first inning in the opener, as designated player Riley Donovan brought in leadoff hitter Allie Stines with a sac fly to center. A half-inning after College of Idaho tied it at 1-1, SOU shortstop Rylan Austin scored from third on a throwing error to put the Raiders back in front.

The Raiders got the separation they were seeking in the third, scoring four runs on five hits to take control. Austin, a former all-state selection for North Medford, hit a two-out, two-run double to right-center. Moments later, Winterburn, the Raiders’ No. 7 hitter, clubbed a two-run home run to left field to put SOU up 6-1.

“Over the week we’ve just been working really hard on hitting our pitches and getting ahead in the count early,” Winterburn said. “We were just doing it for our pitchers. They work so hard and we’re getting some really great games. Doing it for them is the biggest thing.”

Stines scored on a dropped fly ball just in front of the wall to tie the second game at 1-1. SOU took the lead for good an inning later, as Quirke helped her own cause with a two-out, two-run single up the middle. SOU first baseman Tayler Walker — who went 2-for-3 in the nightcap — made it 4-1 with a perfectly-placed infield single between third and short.

SOU added three insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth thanks to Donovan’s two-run double that was just shy of the left field fence. She later scored on Walker’s squeeze bunt right in front of home plate.

Donovan reached base in six of her eight plate appearances Friday while taking over sole possession of the team lead in RBIs with 45. Quirke is second with 44.

“I just think the approach today was confident, it was loose, but it was intentional,” Pistole said. “We came in with an energy today to go get something, meaning the game that’s right in front of us, and I felt like that carried into different parts of the game and different situations with runners in scoring position, getting bunts down and just attacking from the circle. The whole approach today was positive.”

Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSOU's Katrina Winterburn connects for a home run during game one in Ashland Friday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSOU's Gabby Sandoval delivers a pitch during the first game in Ashland Friday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSOU's Gabby Sandoval delivers a pitch during the first game in Ashland Friday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSOU's Hannah Shimek gets a base hit during the first game in Ashland Friday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSOU's Lauren Quirke makes a play from 3rd base for an out during game one in Ashland Friday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSOU's Tayler Walker drops a bunt during the first game in Ashland Friday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSOU's Rylan Austin slides into 3rd base safe during the first game in Ashland Friday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSOU's Riley Donovan hits for an RBI during the first game in Ashland Friday afternoon.