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Raiders eliminated from NAIA World Series

CLERMONT, Florida — The remarkable run that turned 2017 into the most successful season ever for a Southern Oregon University softball team is over at the NAIA World Series.

There were no late dramatics or improbable storylines against the second-seeded Columbia (Mo.) Cougars on Tuesday at Legends Way Ballfields. Instead, unfortunately placed line drives, a couple mistakes and an opposing pitcher who would not break handed the Raiders a 5-2 elimination-game loss.

The Cougars (48-6), who scored the go-ahead run in the fifth, advanced to play fifth-seeded LSU Alexandria in another elimination game today.

The eighth-seeded and 20th-ranked Raiders were the lowest remaining seed among the final six teams. Their school-record win total flat-lined at 46-15. They scored in the first inning for the first time in the tournament to give their freshman ace, Karlee Coughlin, an early lead but didn't get a runner past second base for the rest of the day.

Columbia starter Lauren McCroskie only saw four batters. Three of them walked, though one of them, Kelsey Randall, was thrown out trying to score from first on a sacrifice bunt when she saw no one initially guarding home plate. Paxton Welch came on for McCroskie with two outs, and after plunking the first batter she saw to load the bases, Coughlin helped herself out with a two-run single up the middle.

Welch surrendered only four more hits, all singles, and saw the rest of the game through to bring her record to 23-4.

The Cougars made their move in the third, sparked by Rachel Sullivan's leadoff walk and Carly Spalding's ensuing base hit. Molly Carter drove in the first run with a single, and the game was tied after she and Theresa DeCosty executed a first-and-third double steal.

Spalding went 3-for-4 with three runs scored. She crossed the plate for the second time in the fifth, positioning herself with a bunt single and a steal of second base. Sullivan drove her in again with a hit that bounced into right field and gave the Cougars a 3-2 edge. Spalding scored her third run, following DeCosty home, when Allyson Metz hit a two-out, two-run single in the seventh.

The Raiders threatened a few times but were unable to follow through. Trailing by a run in the bottom of the fifth, Randall led off with a single, but Kayleen Smith promptly hit a liner that found second baseman Julianna Waldner's glove and resulted in a double play. Taylor Martinez reached on a walk and Hannah Wessel followed with a two-out single in the sixth, but a called strike three ended the inning. And Smith tried to keep SOU alive in the seventh with a single, but three groundouts to Waldner ended the season.

For her part, Coughlin hung tough, holding Columbia to six hits through the first six innings. She finished with a record of 19-3, the most wins for a Raider pitcher since 2009.

The game was the last for seven Raider seniors: Tyler Burke, Nicole Cardoza, Lacie Crawford, Abigail Lund, Taylor Martinez, Aaliyah Oliver and Smith. They'll depart as the first Raiders to win a Cascade Conference tournament and play at the NAIA World Series.