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No. 20 SOU set to host CCC tournament

Southern Oregon University hasn't traditionally had much luck in the Cascade Conference Softball Tournament presented by U.S. Bank, but the Raiders have never played it on their home field, either.

At least one of those facts is about to change this week as the 20th-ranked Raiders (34-14 overall, 20-8 CCC) get set to host the six-team, double-elimination affair at University Field from Friday morning through Sunday, nearly two weeks after winning the CCC's West Division regular-season title. They'll be joined by West runner-up Oregon Tech (27-18, 20-8), defending tourney champion Corban (34-17, 18-10), East Division champ Carroll (24-20, 11-13), and East runners-up Eastern Oregon (25-21, 14-10) and Great Falls (22-16, 12-12).

For winning their respective divisions, SOU and Carroll will receive first-round byes. The Raiders will open at 2 p.m. Friday against the winner of the 9 a.m. game between Eastern Oregon and Corban, which both swept the Raiders in the regular season. If they win, they'll play at 2 p.m. Saturday for a spot in Sunday's championship round; if they lose, they'll play an elimination game at 9 a.m. Saturday for the right to play again at 4:30 p.m.

Postseason Picture: The Cascade Conference gets two automatic spots in the national tournament, and those will be awarded to the teams that advance to Sunday's championship round. The NAIA Opening Round, which is scheduled for May 16-18, will consist of 40 teams — 31 automatic qualifiers and nine at-large qualifiers (some of which will be awarded to Opening Round hosts if necessary) — at 10 different sites, and the 10 teams that make it out of the Opening Round will advance to the NAIA World Series from May 27 to June 2 in Sioux City, Iowa. If the Raiders don't earn an automatic berth to the national tournament, there's still hope for an at-large: Last year the final at-large went to the No. 19 team in the rankings.

The final rankings and Opening Round qualifiers will be announced next week. SOU hasn't appeared in national postseason play since 2006.

SOU Tournament History: Last year, after going 13-15 in conference play, the Raiders sandwiched a win against Concordia with two losses against Great Falls in the tournament. They went 0-2 at the 2014 tournament, and they lost their first game of a single-elimination tournament in 2010.

Regular Season in Review: The Raiders put everything together to defy the expectations that had them in the No. 5 spot of the conference's preseason poll. Their .322 batting average is the team's highest in 10 years; their earned-run average of 2.47 in CCC play made them the best in the conference for the first time since their last regular-season title in 2005; their 46 errors so far are 31 less than the number committed by their opponents; and their 118 stolen bases (on an astounding 89-percent success rate) are a new CCC record.

To get to the top of the standings, though, they had to unseat preseason favorite Oregon Tech, which was fresh off its fourth appearance in the NAIA World Series in 2015. The Raiders and Owls played four games during the regular season that were decided by a total of five runs, and the Raiders won three of them. SOU's pitchers have protected slim leads all season: The Raiders are 29-2 when leading after four innings, 24-1 when leading after five and 22-0 when leading after six. The defense has been sturdy behind them, too, committing one or no errors in 34 of 46 (contested) games.

Short Hops:

• The follow-up to Kelsey Randall's All-American freshman campaign has been a success: With a .412 batting average, she's primed to become the first player in program history to bat .400 or better in consecutive seasons. She's also the new owner of SOU's career stolen-base record with 68.

• Kayleen Smith's first season with SOU has also been a fruitful one, as the second-baseman leads the Raiders with 32 RBIs on a .395 batting average. She's also 41-for-43 in stolen base attempts, and with two more she'd match the Raider (and conference) single-season record.

• The Raiders have eight different players batting over .300. In the previous three years combined, they had eight.

• Prior to conference play, SOU freshman Rebecca Velasquez and Amelia Hensler combined to hit .212. Since the start of conference play, they've hit .373.

• Third-baseman Alexa Gonzalez's next start will be the 180th of her career, which will match the program record established by Seanna Doyel in 2005. In her first two years, Gonzalez batted .217 with 13 extra-base hits and 32 RBIs; in her last two, she's batted .336 with 30 extra-base hits and 65 RBIs.

• The streak is still alive: Sydney White (13-8, 2.26 ERA), a senior pitcher, has given up two earned runs or less in 11 straight starts — allowing a total of 13 runs in 73 2/3 innings during that span for an ERA of 1.24. During her sophomore and junior seasons, she had an ERA of 4.67.

• Victoria Mackey (15-2, 2.02) has put together the finest season for a freshman pitcher in SOU history thanks to pinpoint control, which has limited her to 21 walks in 117 2/3 innings. She has yet to walk more than two batters in a single start.