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SOU falls in opener at nationals

CLERMONT, Fla. — The Southern Oregon softball team will be playing for its season a little earlier than it hoped after dropping its NAIA World Series opener Friday to No. 3-seeded Marian (Ind.), 10-6, at Legends Way Ballfields.

The No. 6-seeded Raiders (47-14) were directed to the elimination bracket, where they’ll play No. 7-seeded Mobile (Ala.) (46-14) today at 9 a.m. Pacific time. Whichever team stays alive will play at 9 a.m. Monday against the loser of Saturday’s game between No. 1 Georgia Gwinnett and No. 9 Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.).

It would take seven consecutive victories for SOU over the next six days to capture the title.

In a matchup that was pushed back three hours to 9 p.m. local time after a lightning delay earlier in the evening, Marian (51-5), the Crossroads League champion, advanced in the winners’ bracket unconventionally.

The Knights put the Raiders in a 4-0 hole before SOU’s first at-bats and used 12 hits, six free passes and three errors to plate more runs against them than any team has this season in a seven-inning game.

That figured to be more than enough for ace Breena Smith (25-2), who hadn’t yielded more than two earned runs in a single outing since last year. Before she recorded her first out, however, SOU catcher Harlee Donovan sent a booming three-run home run to left to cut the lead to 4-3.

In the second, a Donovan blooper to right scored Hannah Shimek to tie it. But the Knights answered in the top of the third with Sadie Baugh’s two-run double to the fence that put them up for good.

The Raiders needed four pitchers to get through the night; Gabby Sandoval was relieved with one out in the first and four runs on her tab, though Morgan Jones (7-4) took the decision.

Still, the Raiders stuck around while hitting up Smith — who entered the contest with a 0.93 ERA — for six runs on 12 hits. With two outs and the bases loaded in the fourth, Karlee Coughlin hit fly ball that was caught on the warning track.

SOU broke through with two out and no one on in the sixth: Trailing 7-4, Donovan drew a walk and Rebecca Velasquez chased her home with a lined double to the gap. Tayler Walker followed up with an RBI single to right, making it 7-6.

The Knights broke it open with a three-run seventh that started ominously with a walk, a bunt single and a mishandled sacrifice-bunt attempt that loaded the bases with no one out. A walk forced the first run in and RBI singles from Kassidi Cadle and Carly Greene proved to be the knockout blows.

Donovan’s home run was her 11th of the season — tying the SOU single-season record that she matched last year — and her four RBIs brought her record total to 72.

Shimek’s bat stayed hot with a 2-for-4 effort; she’s 16-for-28 in the postseason. Walker and Kelsey Randall added two hits each.

Allie Hancock navigated the Raiders through most of the game, totaling four innings of relief work in which she allowed three hits and two runs.

Mobile will face the Raiders after losing 4-1 against No. 10-seeded Columbia (Mo.). The Rams were the Southern States Athletic Conference champions.

Marian, which also defeated SOU in the 2016 NAIA opening round, will play Monday against Columbia or Oklahoma City.

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