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Raiders keep World Series title hopes alive

COLUMBUS, Georgia — Southern Oregon cleared its first elimination bracket hurdle, topping Mount Mercy (Iowa) 8-4 on Monday afternoon at the South Commons Complex, and will be among the last four teams standing at the NAIA Softball World Series for the third consecutive postseason.

The top-seeded Raiders (51-6) stayed alive by knocking around Jayna Witzany, the Mustangs ace who struck out 24 over 14 scoreless innings in her first two World Series starts. Witzany only got one Raider on strikes, gave up 11 hits and didn’t get any help from a defense that committed four errors and squandered an early 2-0 lead in the win-or-go-home affair.

Lauren Quirke earned the decision by getting through 5 2/3 innings and went 3-for-4 with a double, a run scored and an RBI. Hannah Shimek went 3-for-4 with two runs scored, and Riley Donovan and Olivia Mackey both reached three times with an extra-base hit apiece.

SOU advanced to play at 1 p.m. Pacific Time Tuesday against the winner of Monday’s other elimination game between No. 6 seed Madonna (Mich.) and No. 9 seed Bethany (Kan.). The winner will turn around to play at 4 p.m. against the loser of Monday’s game between unbeatens College of Idaho and Oregon Tech, and whoever comes out of that will have to defeat the CI-OIT winner twice for the championship on Wednesday.

The Mustangs, the No. 7 seed, finished their season with a 38-17 record. They briefly had SOU on the ropes after Jess Heick’s two-run double in the first inning.

Quirke avoided further trouble with Mackey’s help on a diving grab in right field for the third out, signaling a momentum shift.

Donovan led off the top of the second with a double to the fence, Tayler Walker singled her home, and Mackey’s lined triple to the opposite field tied the score. The Raiders took the lead before the inning ended courtesy of a fielding error, then padded it in the third on Quirke’s RBI double and another wild throw that made it 5-2.

Up 5-4 in the top of the seventh, Walker came through with a sacrifice fly. A misplay on Katrina Winterburn’s hard-hit bouncer to second base enabled two more runs to score.

Quirke, who struck out five, improved to 15-2. Gabby Sandoval recorded the last four outs to earn the save, and with two gone in the sixth she stranded the potential tying run in scoring position by getting MMU’s top hitter, Payton Bruner, to pop out.

Another diving catch by Mackey, a two-time CCC Gold Glove winner, ended the game.

The Raiders have won 12 of their last 14 national tournament elimination games dating back to 2017.

Only one of the last 11 national champions has come out of the elimination bracket.