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RAIDER ROUNDUP: Gandara, Potter clinch All-America status

WICHITA, Kan. — For the first time since 2019, the Southern Oregon University men’s wrestling team will have representation on the All-America podium thanks to first-year Raiders Aaron Gandara and Evan Potter.

With three straight consolation wins apiece in their NAIA Championships debuts, Gandara and Potter clinched top-eight finishes on Day 1 of the tournament Friday at Hartman Arena. Gandara, the No. 10 seed at 157 pounds, and Potter, an unseeded 133-pound freshman who stayed alive with back-to-back upsets, will continue their runs at 8 a.m. Pacific Time on Saturday.

Four-time national qualifier Justin Coon (133 pounds) and three-time qualifier Pancho Barrera (125) were both eliminated.

As a team the Raiders stand in 21st place with 16 ½ points. Grand View (Iowa), seeking its 10th championship in 11 years, has a 33 ½-point lead atop the standings with 123 ½.

Gandara, a sophomore from Somerton, Ariz., continued to defy expectations after taking a Cascade Conference title as a No. 7 seed two weeks ago. He shut out Waldorf (Iowa)’s Jalon Strong 6-0 in a Round of 32 matchup and nearly knocked off No. 7 seed Derrick Smallwood of Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) in an 8-7 decision. He overpowered his first two consolation-bracket opponents — scoring an 11-0 major decision over Vanguard (Calif.)’s Adam Valdez and a 15-0 technical fall over Arizona Christian’s Carlo Castagnaro — before edging Menlo (Calif.)’s Abraham Del Toro, whom he pinned in the CCC semifinals, in an 8-7 decision to end the day.

Gandara’s next opponent is No. 11 seed James Williams of Embry-Riddle (Ariz.), another opponent he upset at the CCC Championships. He’ll bring a 27-10 record to the matchup.

Potter upped his team-best win total to 31 by turning in one of the biggest upsets of the day in the “blood” round against No. 2 seed Matt Robertson of Saint Ambrose (Iowa). After opening in the Round of 32 with a 9-1 bonus-point win against Ottawa (Kan.)’s Diago Hernandez, Potter was sent to the consolation bracket by No. 4 seed Carson Taylor of Grand View in a 6-0 decision. He made a swift recovery, first dominating Reinhardt (Ga.)’s Ivan Arguello, 15-3, then outlasting No. 11 seed Taylor Vasquez of Morningside (Iowa) for a 13-10 triumph. That set up his matchup with Robertson, whom Potter shut down for a 4-1 win.

Potter will meet another seeded foe today in No. 8 Keshawn Laws of Cumberland (Ga.), the same wrestler who ended Coon’s run.

Softball

SOU 16, ARIZONA CHRISTIAN 1: Through a medley of precipitation in near-freezing temperatures, fifth-ranked Southern Oregon scored 14 runs in the first two innings on its way to finishing off Arizona Christian 1in five at Lithia & Driveway Fields.

Riley Donovan launched her fourth home run and went 2-for-3 with a walk, three RBIs and two runs scored as the Raiders improved to 14-4 in the non-conference affair.

Rylan Austin went 2-for-3 with four RBIs and two runs scored. Piper Love was 1-for-2 with a walk, three runs scored and an RBI. Deja Acosta added a two-run triple and scored twice.

Strikes were at a premium amid the slick conditions as the teams combined to hand out 16 free passes, 10 of which benefited the Raiders. SOU starter Cayla Williams still managed to get through three frames while allowing just an unearned run, bringing her streak to 18 straight innings without giving up an earned run over her last four outings.

Katie Machado worked the last two innings in relief to earn the decision, conceding just one hit and improving to 6-1.

Donovan’s fourth home run, a two-run shot, kicked off the fireworks in the second. The Raiders scored their eight runs in the inning on three hits, five walks, a hit batsman and an error.

The Firestorm — led by coach Mike Mayben, who was on staff for both of SOU’s national championships and was the team’s interim head coach in 2020 — dropped to 13-6.