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Southern Oregon University's Harlee Donovan (13), shown in an earlier game, continue to wield a hot a bat at nationals. MT file photo

Donovan, Sandoval lead way as Raiders advance

CLERMONT, Fla. — Southern Oregon coach Jessica Pistole knew her team had yet to summon its best softball at the NAIA World Series, but believed Saturday’s mini-breakthrough in a must-win game paired with a day off might do the trick.

She was proven right Monday afternoon, with pitcher Gabby Sandoval cruising, catcher Harlee Donovan slugging and the Raider defense executing flawlessly in a 9-0 knockout of the No. 9-seeded Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) Lions at Legends Way Ballfields.

SOU moved on to play another elimination game Tuesday at 9 a.m. PDT against the loser of Monday’s late winner’s bracket matchup between No. 3-seeded Marian (Ind.) and No. 10-seeded Columbia (Mo.).

Sandoval, No. 6-seeded SOU’s sophomore ace, bounced back from Thursday’s rough start in a tournament-opening loss to Marian (Ind.) with her sixth shutout of the season, an eight-hitter that made her the second 25-game winner in team history.

After the Raiders manufactured two runs in the first and two more in the third, Donovan broke the game open with a three-run home run in the fifth — a no-doubter to left field that marked her second of the tourney and 12th of 2018, breaking the Raiders’ single-season record that she previously shared with Tanisha Burch.

The Raiders (49-14 overall) didn’t commit an error behind Sandoval after totaling five through their first two games in Clermont. They’re 23-1 in errorless games this season.

The 21st-ranked Lions (36-16), on the other hand, were sloppy behind pitcher Mallory Spurlock (18-8), racking up five errors that led to four unearned runs. Three of them occurred in the third, when Hannah Shimek and Donovan reached on misplayed grounders and later scored on Rebecca Velasquez’s sacrifice fly and Tayler Walker’s squeeze bunt.

Their frustration started in the first, which Kelsey Randall led off with a single. The bases were loaded following walks to Donovan and Velasquez, and the first run scored when Walker’s shallow popup got lost in the sun.

A batter later, Karlee Coughlin lined a single under the glove of first baseman Hannah Wright to make it 2-0.

Donovan’s bomb in the fifth was the longest of the 23 she’s hit in her two-year SOU career. She extended fully on Spurlock’s mistake at the letters after Randall walked and Shimek reached on a blooper to left.

Her RBI total of 75 is now the third-highest in the NAIA; she’s tallied seven at the tournament and reached base in 10 of 12 plate appearances, bringing her on-base streak to 44 games.

Randall and Shimek scored two runs apiece, while Walker and Coughlin both had two hits. SOU scored its last two runs in the seventh on another error and Randall’s sacrifice fly.

It was more than enough for Sandoval (25-6), who struck out four and walked one in finishing off the Lions on 92 pitches. The complete game was her 19th of the season.

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