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One win stands between SOU and its first national title

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A welcome wake-up call will greet Southern Oregon University faithful Wednesday when the fourth-ranked Raider softball team tries to add a prized piece of hardware to its carry-on luggage for the flight back to Ashland.

At 7 a.m. PDT, SOU (51-7) and No. 3 Oklahoma City (60-7) will meet again at the Killian Sports Complex — this time for the NAIA World Series title.

SOU took the first meeting, 4-2 on Monday night, but OCU set up another by defeating defending champion Science & Arts (Okla.), 3-1, in Tuesday’s elimination-bracket final.

Because the Raiders made it through the winner’s bracket unscathed, they’ll have two chances to defeat the Stars; if necessary, Game 2 is scheduled for 10 a.m.

A few notes on the matchup:

-- Like the semifinals, the championship will be streamed live online by ESPN3, though there are separate links for both games. The game(s) will also be on at Oak Tree Northwest Bar & Grill. The start time was originally 3 p.m. PDT, but storms in the forecast necessitated the change.

-- The Raiders have lost back-to-back games just once since 2017, dropping both ends of a doubleheader at College of Idaho on April 26. They’ve since won 11 straight. Over the last three seasons, they’ve played 31 postseason games without losing two in a row. In the last 10 years, the team that came out of the winner’s bracket has won the championship nine times (OCU was the exception in 2016) and a Game 2 has been forced four times.

-- SOU is attempting to become the 22nd school to win a championship since the inaugural NAIA Softball World Series in 1981. The Stars have captured 10 titles — the Raiders stopped them short of a third straight last year — and are making their 15th appearance in the final.

-- The tournament has been dominated by pitching to an unusual degree. SOU is batting .284 at the World Series but is the only team batting better than .246. Seven teams were over .250 last year and five the year before that. OCU is hitting .399 on the season but just .206 with 2.3 runs per game at the tournament. Since 1981, the champion has allowed more than three runs twice in the title game, and more than two runs on just seven occasions.

-- With her latest win, SOU pitcher Gabby Sandoval (35-3, 1.10 ERA) moved to the No. 11 spot on the all-time NAIA single-season wins list and went to the top of the 2019 leaderboard. She’s three strikeouts away from joining Brandi Brown (2001) as the only Raiders to fan 200 in a season and is now 8-0 in postseason play. Dating back to last year, the junior has won 15 consecutive postseason decisions. The first four hitters in OCU’s potent lineup combined to go hitless in 15 at-bats against her during Monday’s game. If the Raiders need a second option, the most likely candidate is Lauren Quirke (7-1, 3.61). No other SOU pitcher has made an appearance this month.

-- After being replaced in the sixth inning against SOU, OCU ace Jaden Shores (32-5) bounced back with an eight-hit complete game against Science & Arts, allowing only an unearned run. Brittany Perez made her a winner with a tiebreaking two-run home run in the top of the seventh. If needed, the Stars have a formidable No. 2 option in freshman Kylie Dodson (26-2, 1.14), though she’s only been called on twice during the national tournament.

-- Allie Stines, SOU’s catcher and leadoff hitter, is working on a 34-game on-base streak and has scored 67 runs — the second-highest total in Raider history. Her on-base percentage is at an even .500.

-- Quirke is swinging the hottest bat at the World Series, going 6-for-9 with three extra-base hits, four RBIs and three runs scored at the tourney. She’s up to 27 multi-hit games this season — Stines is second on the team with 21 — and has hit safely in 13 of SOU’s last 14 games. First baseman Tayler Walker’s home run Monday gave her 11 RBI in nine postseason games.

-- As a school, SOU is appearing in its fourth national championship game. The first three — football in 2014 and 2015, and women’s basketball in 2016 — were all against Marian (Ind.). Marian was eliminated at the World Series on Monday by Georgia Gwinnett.

Larry Stauth Jr. / For the TidingsSouthern Oregon University starting pitcher Gabby Sandoval gives a high-five to teammate Hannah Shimek between innings against Marymount in the NAIA Opening Round at U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford on Monday, May 13, 2019.