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Raiders have another CCC title in sight

Fourth-ranked Southern Oregon is working on the most dominant regular-season run in the history of Cascade Conference softball, and with two weeks left, the Raiders will finish off their home slate this aternoon and Saturday with a series against Providence (Mont.) at University Field.

Winners of 19 straight conference games, the Raiders (36-5 overall, 20-1 CCC) have six to play and are attempting to become the first team in six years with fewer than four losses in CCC action. They’re also threatening the lowest CCC loss count and top win percentage in circuit history, logged in 2006 by an Oregon Tech team that went 17-2. Their next opponent, the Argos (14-21, 7-14), enter the weekend tied for the sixth and final postseason spot but are 1-11 against CCC teams with winning records.

SOU’s magic number to win the conference title stands at four — meaning any combination of wins for the Raiders and losses by Oregon Tech (18-3 CCC) and College of Idaho (17-4 CCC) equaling would guarantee SOU the No. 1 seed. Oregon Tech — which was swept at SOU earlier this season and therefore would lose the tiebreaker — hosts C of I this weekend, and the Raiders conclude the regular season next week at C of I. If the Raiders finish the job, they’ll host the six-team CCC Championships presented by U.S. Bank May 3-5 at University Field for the third time in four years.

Because of its No. 4 ranking, SOU is also in position to nab one of 10 host bids for the 40-team NAIA Opening Round, which will play out May 13-15. Hosts will be announced next Wednesday, taking into account geography, facilities, student-athlete experience and national rankings. Like last year, the NAIA will not certify a facility without field lighting as a host site, so SOU’s bid is attached to the City of Medford and U.S. Cellular Community Park.

Senior Moments

The seniors on SOU’s roster — Tiana Brown, Morgan Jones and Rebecca Velasquez — will be honored Saturday immediately following Game 4 of the series, and all three have had pivotal moments during the most successful stretch in the program’s history.

Brown has taken advantage of her first chance to play every day in left field with 43 hits — she had 24 in her first three seasons combined — and top-15 CCC marks in both batting average (.377) and RBI (29) among players with at least 100 at-bats.

Jones is working on a 3.85 ERA in 2018, and in her first season with the Raiders last year she went 8-4 with a 2.50 ERA over 67 1/3 innings _ going nine consecutive appearances without allowing a run in conference play and yielding just five earned runs over 17 innings in national postseason play.

Velasquez is a career .298 hitter with 81 RBI and last year hit 14 doubles and recorded an RBI in four straight games at the NAIA World Series.

Brown and Jones are also perennial members of the Academic All-CCC team.

Short Hops

  • As a team, the Raiders are batting at a .368 average, and the top average in conference history is .361. The top average ever posted by an SOU team is .338; the Raiders could go hitless in their next 107 at-bats before dropping below that number.
  • SOU ranks top-10 nationally in doubles (78) and triples (22) and is 11th in runs per game (7.3). Individually, Lauren Quirke is tied for the NAIA lead in triples (8) and ranks fourth in both hits (69) and total bases (111). She’s recorded seven extra-base hits in her last six games in raising her league-best average to .486.
  • Gabby Sandoval’s tear continued last week as she held Northwest without an earned run in two complete games, improving to 24-2 overall and 18-0 in the conference. The junior is three wins away from matching the single-season team record she set and CCC record she tied last year, and eight away from matching SOU’s career mark of 73. Opponents have failed to score an earned run against Sandoval in 14 of her 21 starts, and her opponents’ average of .172 is 30 points better than anyone else in the CCC.
  • Entering the weekend, Hannah Shimek has an active nine-game hitting streak and Allie Stines owns a 17-game on-base streak. Olivia Mackey, meanwhile, is working on the team’s highest conference average (.417).
  • A sweep of the Argos would give the Raiders their third consecutive and fourth overall 40-win season. They had 11 losses when they got their 40th win last year, 13 when they got their 40th in 2017 and 11 in ‘04.

About Providence

  • The Argos have dropped four of their last five games but have already nearly doubled their win total from 2018, when weather prevented them from playing a single game on their home field. This year, they’ve been able to play one series in Great Falls.
  • They’re batting just .243 as a team but have gotten solid production at the top of their order from Olivia Warren (.357), Hannah Vandomelen (.349, 10 2B) and Karlie Southworth (.339, 13 XBH). Their team ERA sits at 6.21, and their staff is headed by Brieanna Clifford (2-8, 4.27) and Vandomelen (5-7, 6.44).
  • SOU is 12-4 against the Argos in a series that dates back to 2012. The Raiders have won the last eight matchups overall.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsSOU pitcher Gabby Sandoval delivers a strike in the 1st game.