ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University softball team has grown accustomed to celebrations during the last couple seasons. This weekend, for a change, the No. 8-ranked Raiders hope to have one on their own field.
The Cascade Conference Tournament presented by U.S. Bank — a six-team, three-day, double-elimination affair — is back at University Field, with the first game set for 9 a.m. Friday and SOU’s first game at 2 p.m. against either No. 4-seeded Eastern Oregon or No. 5-seeded British Columbia.
The Raiders (41-12 overall) earned the right to host by capturing the CCC regular-season title last weekend in a sweep at Eastern Oregon, topping 12th-ranked Corban and 20th-ranked Oregon Tech by one game in the standings. They’re the defending tournament champions after winning their first last year in Salem, but they’re attempting to become the first top seed to win it in six years and the first team to go back-to-back since Oregon Tech in 2011-12.
SOU was already guaranteed a spot in the 40-team NAIA National Tournament by virtue of being named an NAIA Opening Round host, but the Raiders took the CCC’s first automatic bid anyway with their regular-season title. The conference’s second bid will go to the tournament champion — or, if SOU wins it, the tournament runner-up.
The entire NAIA Opening Round Field, including automatic and at-large qualifiers, will be revealed May 8. SOU will partner with the City of Medford to host the Southern Oregon Bracket at U.S. Cellular Community Park. The four-team, double-elimination event is scheduled to take place May 14-16.
SOU Tournament History
The Raiders are in the CCC Tournament for the fifth year in a row after sweeping through it for their first championship last year as the No. 2 seed.
They opened with a 7-0 defeat of No. 3-seeded Oregon Tech, then knocked host Corban on back-to-back days — 6-5 in extra innings to reach the final, then 4-1 for the championship. The closest they’d previously come to winning it was when they first hosted in 2016 and came up a win short of the final. They picked up one win in 2015, went 0-2 in ‘14, and lost the first game of a single-elimination tourney in ’10.
Senior shortstop Kelsey Randal will be on her home field for the last time this weekend against a conference she’s thoroughly dominated over the last four years. The product of Concord, Calif., this year has set new CCC career records for hits (319), stolen bases (147) and triples (28), and she’s three runs away from tying that record (221).
This year, the three-time Gold Glove winner has already set a new CCC single-season record for stolen bases by going 48-for-50, and she’s one triple away from matching the single-season record of 10 she established last year. During SOU’s run to the NAIA World Series in 2017, Randall hit 15-for-41 with nine runs scored in 12 postseason games.
After going 14-7 with a 3.06 ERA as a freshman last year, Gabby Sandoval has made a significant jump while posting a 20-6 record and a 1.83 ERA during her sophomore campaign. With a pair of victories last week, her seventh and eighth consecutive complete games, she became SOU’s first 20-game winner since 2009. In those eight starts, Sandoval has thrown a pair of two-hit shutouts and allowed a total of six earned runs in 56 innings of work — a microscopic ERA of 0.75.
More Run-Prevention Goodness
While the Raiders are on pace to break the team’s all-time mark for batting average in a season (.338) at the plate, their defense has once again keyed much of the team’s success. That was especially clear over the final two weeks of the regular-season, when they won three one-run games in which they scored the deciding runs unearned. In conference play, they committed just 26 errors compared to opponents’ 54. Overall, they’ve allowed 42 fewer unearned runs (37) than opponents.
And since Jessica Pistole took over as head coach in 2015, they’ve accumulated 240 errors to opponents’ 408.
n Olivia Mackey’s .426 batting average during conference regular-season play was the highest-ever for a Raider freshman. Since April 13, she’s recorded six multi-hit games.
n Harlee Donovan’s school-record on-base streak lives on at 34 games. The senior catcher and presumptive CCC Player of the Year tops the conference leaderboards in in eight major categories: batting average (.453), slugging percentage (.753), on-base percentage (.576), hits (68), runs (59), walks (44), total bases (113) and runners caught stealing (13).
n A year after Corban set a new conference record with 114 stolen bases as a team, the Raiders have already shattered that mark by going 155-for-169 — a success rate of 91.7 percent compared to the Warriors’ 83.8.
n The Raiders went unbeaten away from home in conference play (12-0) for the first time in team history. Over the last three years at home, they’re 43-15.