Sandoval, big inning boost SOU in NAIA opener
Given a few extra outs to play with, the big inning Southern Oregon has been waiting on since the postseason began finally came Monday afternoon in the first game of the NAIA softball opening round.
The top-ranked Raiders made their Southern Oregon Bracket debut with a 7-0 defeat of Saint Katherine (Calif.) at U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford, taking advantage of three errors to score all of their runs unearned in the fifth inning of Gabby Sandoval’s three-hit shutout.
Their national title defense continues at 11 a.m. today against 11th-ranked Hope International (Calif.), the double-elimination bracket’s No. 3 seed.
The Royals advanced with a 1-0 victory over 13th-ranked Morningside (Iowa) as freshman pitcher Allie Puente struck out 12 in a one-hitter.
The SOU-HIU winner will move on to Wednesday’s final round, while the loser will play again at 4 p.m. today against the winner of a 1:30 p.m. elimination game between Morningside and Saint Katherine.
The Raiders (47-5) got the bounce-back performance they needed out of Sandoval, who in the Cascade Conference Tournament lost back-to-back decisions for the first time since she was a freshman.
The senior responded with 10 strikeouts, marking her fourth time in double figures this season, and one walk. Her 117th career win made her 27-3 in 2021.
“She came out dialed in and ready to attack,” said Raiders coach Jessica Pistole. “The outcomes were there for her. She was in a good place going into this game.”
With some assistance from the Firebirds (13-20), the lineup eventually got going, too.
Avery-Morehead Hutsell started the fifth by reaching second on a throwing error, and with one out Hannah Shimek lined an RBI single into right field for the first run.
A dropped popup put two more runners in scoring position to set up Riley Donovan’s sacrifice fly. Hard-hit, run-scoring singles by Rylan Austin and Allie Stines, a hit-batsman with the bases loaded, and another fielding error promptly plated five more runs.
“I was happy to see us make an adjustment and just string some positive outcomes together in that fifth inning and push some runs across,” said Pistole. “It’s a game of momentum. There were some people who had some really good at-bats, even some hard hits that were right to some people.”
Stines had two RBIs. Austin and Shimek both went 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Olivia Mackey drove in a run and reached base twice.
USK, the California Pacific Conference Tournament champion, got 4 2/3 innings of work from starter Kaitlyn Bailey. She was charged with five runs.
After the conference tournament, when SOU lost back-to-back home games for the first time in five years and was eliminated, the Raiders had time to reflect.
“We’ve been spending time all week just working on our own mentality and our own approach,” said Pistole. “That’s just been something we’ve had a week to be able to focus on. I think going into this game, we had a lot of energy, and that was good.
“It’s about staying consistent and bringing that energy and getting in that box every time with confidence.”
The Raiders also began their 2019 opening round against the Cal Pac champion, Marymount (Calif.). They went on to defeat Hope International in back-to-back games to clinch their third straight World Series berth.
They’re now two wins away from a fourth.