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Raiders on the brink of NAIA World Series spot

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MEDFORD — Through five postseason games, the fourth-ranked Southern Oregon softball team has yet to be made uncomfortable. If they can keep the streak intact for one more, a third straight NAIA World Series appearance is in the Raiders’ future.

SOU marched on to the championship series of the NAIA Opening Round Southern Oregon bracket by calmly taking care of 11th-ranked Hope International, 4-1, on Tuesday morning at U.S. Cellular Community Park. Tayler Walker hit her fourth home run, Avery Morehead-Hutsell provided some pop from the bottom of the lineup, and Gabby Sandoval made her 29th complete game and 32nd victory look routine.

Now 47-7, the Raiders have outscored opponents by a combined margin of 27-4 during postseason play.

They’ll have to knock off Hope (46-13) again at 11 a.m. today to advance to the NAIA World Series, May 24-30 in Springfield, Mo. The Royals, who are the highest-ranked No. 2 seed at any of the 10 Opening Round sites, avoided elimination by recovering with a 5-3 comeback win against No. 3-seeded Taylor (Ind.) later in the afternoon. If they defeat the Raiders in today’s first matchup, the teams will play one more at 1:30 p.m.

After shutting out No. 3-seeded Marymount (Calif.) on Monday, Sandoval (32-3) recorded only one strikeout and gave up a season-high nine hits. The only one that hurt her was Anessa Cepeda’s leadoff homer in the fourth, and she stranded nine baserunners thanks to some slick defense that played error-free for the second day in a row — including a spectacular catch made by Tiana Brown in left field while sliding into the fence.

The Raider lineup took advantage of a walk and a dropped fly ball to score two unearned runs in the second. After Olivia Mackey’s single loaded the bases with one out, a throwing error plated the first and Allie Stines’ sacrifice fly drove in the second.

Morehead-Hutsell went 2-for-3 with an RBI double down the left-field line that made it 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth. In the fifth, Walker, who missed a home run by a foot in her first at-bat, drove a towering shot over the fence in left.

Hope starter Taylor Piece was charged with four runs (two earned) in five innings of work, falling to 16-6.

Sandoval has pitched all 35 innings for the Raiders in postseason play, allowing four runs with 18 strikeouts and seven walks.

The Raiders are 3-0 against the Royals this season.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsSouthern Oregon University third baseman Lauren Quirke connects for a hit against Hope International on Tuesday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsSouthern Oregon University shortstop Paige Leeper slides safely into home plate to score a run in the second inning against Hope International on Tuesday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsSouthern Oregon University junior right-hander Gabby Sandoval improved her record to 32-3 on the season with the Raiders’ win over Hope International on Tuesday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsSouthern Oregon University junior right-hander Gabby Sandoval improved her record to 32-3 on the season with the Raiders’ win over Hope International on Tuesday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Southern Oregon University right fielder Olivia Mackey runs up for a catch and out in the seventh inning against Hope International on Tuesday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsSouthern Oregon University starting pitcher Gabby Sandoval is congratulated by second baseman Hannah Shimek (00) and shortstop Paige Leeper during Tuesday afternoon's game against Hope International.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsSouthern Oregon University second baseman Hannah Shimek throws to first base to record an out against Hope International on Tuesday afternoon