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'Natty is now' becomes a reality for SOU softball

“Natty is now” was never a slogan that the Southern Oregon softball team took lightly.

That’s just not how this program operates, folks.

There’s no other way that fifth-year head coach Jessica Pistole would let her team operate.

“Natty is now” has been what has fueled these Raiders ever since they returned from Florida last spring after coming oh-so-close to playing for a national title at the NAIA World Series.

It was there that they experienced a season come to an end in the middle of the night.

It was 12 months later that the “Natty is now” mantra became a reality.

Southern Oregon didn’t just win the first-ever national title in program history after a marathon day of softball Wednesday, beating Oklahoma City University, one of the most prestigious programs the NAIA has to offer, 8-3 in a winner-take-all showdown that was delayed over eight hours due to rain.

There they were, playing another national tournament game that was getting oh-so-close to midnight, celebrating their first title right in front of an OCU team that has won more national championships than anybody in NAIA history (10).

It was a fitting conclusion a run under Pistole’s guidance that have seen the Raiders make program history each of the past three seasons.

Before the 2017 season, the Raiders hadn’t even been to the NAIA World Series. There had been NAIA Opening Round appearances, but nothing close to getting to the final site and having a legit chance to win a title.

That has all changed now.

So much of what Southern Oregon has been building has been on the fast track the past three years. Be it junior college transfers making immediate impacts or freshmen playing like seasoned veterans, it’s been a three-year run where each season has just gotten better and better.

Forty-six wins in 2016.

Fifty-one wins last season.

Fifty-two wins this season.

The biggest difference between 2018 and 2019?

Win No. 52 got them the title that they oh-so-craved.

It capped off a near-perfect postseason run where the Raiders suffered just one loss in eight games but also did things their way — be it through comeback wins, nail-biting victories or just simply having the mental fortitude to stay on point despite the weather keeping them at the Killian Sports Complex virtually all day Wednesday.

Some outside of the SOU program might have thought that losing two of the best players the program have ever seen, catcher and NAIA Player of the Year Harlee Donovan and All-American shortstop Kelsey Randall, could equate in a step back for the Raiders in 2019.

But, as they were more than happy to remind you, the Raiders had so many players back from last season’s team that advanced to the NAIA World Series for the second straight year that there was more than just a little bit of faith SOU could make it three in a row.

They had a point. And they were more than happy to prove it, too.

Even without the likes of Donovan and Randall, there was still so much talent on the roster that had at least one national tournament appearance under its belt that making an NAIA title run was really the only thing the Raiders had their eyes on.

Coming so close last season set the stage for what SOU accomplished this year, with a third-place finish and coming within a game of playing for a national title the foundation for the “Natty is now” state of mind.

Of course, they understood the process, and it’s not like Pistole was going to let them forget about it, either.

To get to the end point and improve two spots on their third-place finish at nationals in 2018, the Raiders had to take care of the present day. There was no instant gratification for this group, and that’s something that has been reinforced as much as anything ever since last season ended.

But to say you want to get back to the NAIA World Series and win a national title is one thing.

To go out and do so, winning 52 games along the way, is another.

That’s what this SOU softball team did.

They talked the talk in January, and they walked the walk from opening weekend until as late as their season could have possibly gone.

“Natty is now” isn’t just a saying anymore.

It’s a reality.

If the 2020 mantra is anything like 2019’s, we better know they’ll be more than happy to make it a reality.

And the scariest part for the Cascade Conference and the rest of the NAIA: Pretty much the entire crew is back next season.

Watch out, everybody.

Danny Penza is a page designer and copy editor for the Ashland Tidings and Mail Tribune. Reach him at dpenza@rosebudmedia.com or follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Southern Oregon University's Jordyn Ragan (center) and her teammates celebrate their victory against Oklahoma City at the NAIA Softball World Series in Springfield, Missouri on May 29, 2019.
Southern Oregon University's Tayler Walker, Gabby Sandoval, and catcher Allie Stines celebrate their victory against Oklahoma City at the NAIA Softball World Series in Springfield, Missouri on May 29, 2019.