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Is the third time the charm for SOU at the NAIA World Series?

Southern Oregon is making trips to the NAIA Softball World Series part of its postseason routine.

The Raiders’ success, past and present, means they expect to win there, too, but they’re far from alone after every top seed in the Opening Round advanced to the final site.

The 39th annual tournament will be held for the first time in Springfield, Mo., at the Killian Sports Complex, home of Missouri State University softball. The Raiders (48-7 overall) are the No. 4 overall seed in the 10-team, double-elimination bracket, making their third consecutive appearance and anxious to return after falling one win short of the title series in 2018. They’ll open at 2 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday against No. 5 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) (50-3), a high-powered outfit that ripped through the Mid-South Conference with three of the top-15 individuals on the NAIA’s home-run leaderboard in its lineup.

As SOU found out last year, life in the elimination bracket is much busier than the alternative. The Raiders — along with the other top-six seeds — will get a first-round bye and can win the championship with four consecutive wins. An opening-game loss, on the other hand, would require them to win seven in a row for the title.

A win against LWC would set the Raiders up to play at 2 p.m. PDT Saturday against top-seeded defending champion Science & Arts (Okla.) or its first opponent, either No. 8 Georgia Gwinnett or No. 9 Vanguard (Calif.). A loss to LWC would put the Raiders in an elimination game at 8 a.m. PDT Friday against Georgia Gwinnett or Vanguard.

Bracket Tidbits

Over the last 10 years, only one team has come out of the elimination bracket to win the title: top-seeded Oklahoma City in 2016.

Seven of the 10 World Series squads went undefeated through the Opening Round, though Science & Arts and Marian (Ind.), the Nos. 1 and 2 overall seeds, were not among them. Science & Arts won 52 straight games before its first loss and Marian was working on a 50-game streak when it went down.

Six teams in the World Series were also around last year, and three are in the bracket for the third year in a row: SOU, Marian and Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City is the most decorated team in the field, having been to 27 of the last 28 World Series with 10 championships. SOU denied the Stars their third straight last year with a 3-2 elimination win.

Oregon Tech is also in Springfield representing the Cascade Conference, seeded No. 10 and back in the field for the first time since 2015. The Owls won the 2011 title ranked 18th — making them the lowest-ranked team to win it since 1991 — and Corban became the second CCC to ever reach the final in 2017.

The top-ranked team has won the title four times in the last decade and no team ranked outside of the top four has won it since No. 10 Shorter (Ga.) in 2012.

SOU Tournament History

The Raiders made their World Series debut as the NAIA’s No. 20-ranked team in 2017, thanks to four consecutive elimination-game victories in the Opening Round. After a first-round win against Indiana Wesleyan, they were among the last six teams standing. Last year, as the No. 6 seed, they started with a 10-6 loss to No. 3 Marian (Ind.) and made it easy to forget that they were one out away from a two-and-out appearance. Trailing Mobile (Ala.) 3-2 in their first elimination game, they rallied with three seventh-inning runs and went on to tick off three more wins — 9-0 over No. 21 Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.), 2-1 over Marian and 3-2 over No. 2 Oklahoma City. Twelve hours of rain delays and the NAIA’s steadfast commitment to staying on schedule resulted in the Raiders starting their final game, against Columbia (Mo.), at 1:09 a.m. local time; their 6-2 loss concluded at 2:55 a.m.

Short Hops

SOU has set team records for wins the last two seasons, with 46 in 2017 and 51 in 2018. This year’s squad has already clinched the best winning percentage in team history.

Four true freshmen served as lineup regulars for the Raiders at last year’s tournament in first baseman Tayler Walker, second baseman Hannah Shimek, and outfielders Olivia Mackey and Avery Morehead-Hutsell. Back as sophomores, they’ve combined to produce a .359 batting average with 154 runs scored, 132 RBI and 45 extra-base hits.

As it stands, SOU’s team average of .366 is the best in Cascade Conference history and its on-base percentage of .420 is easily a team record. The Raiders’ slugging percentage has also sharply increased, from .456 last year to .516 now, despite the losses of SOU home-run record-holder Harlee Donovan and NAIA career triples leader Kelsey Randall.

Allie Stines, the CCC Newcomer of the Year, is working on a 12-game hitting streak in which she’s gone 21-for-42 with 15 runs scored and six extra-base hits. She established a new CCC record for doubles in a season with her 25th in the Opening Round and has now thrown out 17 of 30 attempted base-stealers. Making her and SOU’s other top hitting threat, Lauren Quirke (.442, 30 XBH, 58 RBI), so tough to solve is the fact that they’ve struck out six times combined in 431 plate appearances. Both will be appearing at the World Series for the first time.

At 32-3 with a 1.08 ERA, Gabby Sandoval has more wins than all but one pitcher in the tournament — Valley City State (N.D.)’s Emily Smith is 33-1 with a 1.18 ERA — and with 73 career wins, she’s one away from taking the SOU record for herself. She’s already set conference records for wins and shutouts (14) in a season and is 13-1 all-time in postseason play. In seven World Series appearances, she’s 3-0 with a 2.51 ERA over 30 1/3 innings.

Shimek led all players at the 2018 World Series with 10 hits, batting .400. She’s hit safely in all 19 of her career playoff starts.

About Lindsy Wilson

The Blue Raiders are making their sixth overall World Series appearance and first since 2015. They won three consecutive elimination games in the Opening Round to get here but have put together winning streaks of 21, 13 and 13 throughout the season, going 21-1 in the Mid-South Conference.

Four Blue Raiders have reached double figures in home runs: Makea-Al Kaluau (15), Jadyee Boursaw (14), Samantha Luckett (12) and Callum Pilgrim (11). They ranked second nationally in home runs per game (1.4) and fifth in slugging percentage (.559).

Though they average seven runs per game, the lineup is enduring a mini-slump: They’ve scored four or fewer runs in eight consecutive games after doing so just eight times through their first 45 outings.

Pilgrim, a senior center fielder, was named the MSC Player of the Year, as well as a Gold-Glover, after batting .429 with 32 extra-base hits and 54 RBI. LWC also boasts the MSC Pitcher of the Year in sophomore Annabelle Ramirez, who is 18-1 with a 1.25 ERA and a .152 opponents’ batting average. The Blue Raiders’ other frontline starter, Hannah Epperson, is 14-1 with a 1.15 ERA.

David Dews is the sixth-year head coach of LWC. His 2015 team was the national runner-up.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsSOU’s Lauren Quirke reacts to making the final out of the game at US Cellular Fields Wednesday.