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Owls, Raiders both confident in their NAIA National Championship chances

As the one and two seed respectively, Southern Oregon University and Oregon Tech softball are both poised to make deep runs in the NAIA World Series tournament.

Posted: May 25, 2021 11:07 PM
Updated: May 25, 2021 11:16 PM

COLUMBUS, Ga. — For the first time in NAIA World Series history, both the top-seeded teams will hail from southern Oregon. The wire-to-wire number one ranked team in 2021, Southern Oregon University, will keep a one by their name in the national championship bracket. Their rival on the other side of the Cascades, Oregon Tech, is the two-seed.

Both earned a first-round bye. Both are confident in their chances to be the final team standing in a week's time.

For the Southern Oregon Raiders, they're in Columbus, Georgia to defend their crown. The 2019 NAIA National Champions (the 2020 tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic) set out at the beginning of the season with one goal in mind: keep the "natty" in Ashland.

"We want that feeling again," SOU second baseman Hannah Shimek told NewsWatch 12 Sports on Tuesday. "Our goal is to play one more day of softball together every single day. And I think that's like the biggest motivation in the world."

Shimek is making her third appearance in the NAIA World Series. She says the team is ready to go and coming in hungry for another championship. The four-year starter is a catalyst at the top of the Raiders lineup, leading the team in runs scored (62) and stolen bases (32).

"Our lineup is scary," the Bothell, Washington native said. "[This] part of the season is just where we thrive and it's going to be a lot of fun."

The entire Raiders team has had their eyes set on returning to the national championship since the season began. But it's not an easy journey to make, even for the number one team in the nation. It took discipline and constant growth to be back in the position they're in, looking for their second title in a row.

"There's so many like obstacles that you have to face and you have to overcome them," Raiders head coach Jessica Pistole said. "So to be back here to have one last weekend is a gift and it was definitely a goal of ours."

The Raiders come in as one of the best teams in the country in what feels like every statistical category. But there are nine other teams that earned the right to be in Columbus.

Among them, a familiar foe.

The Oregon Tech Owls softball team has been one of the hottest teams in the nation, riding postseason momentum since the start of the Cascade Conference tournament. Winning eleven straight games is no easy feat at any part of the season. To have the last seven of those wins be in some form of postseason play is a testament to just how good this team is.

And they feel good about their chances of keeping that win streak going for the rest of the season.

"We feel like we can win this thing," Oregon Tech ace Sarah Abramson said on Tuesday. "That's our one-track mindset right now."

Abramson has been a large part of the Owls' success in postseason play. Over the last seven games of work, the junior has thrown 48 innings while allowing only four earned runs. Over that stretch, the Milwaukie, Oregon native has struck out 52 batters and walking only ten. It's the key, she says, to success as the competition heats up.

"These are the best teams in the country," Abramson said. "So as a pitcher, you're focusing on limiting the runs. You want to give up zero, one or two to keep your team in it because we're facing some of the best pitching in the country."

Abramson is one of the leaders on this young Owls team. She along with McKenna Armantrout, Mackenzie Driscoll, Olivia Lethlean, Logan Nunes and Halleigh Noga are the only ones who've been to an NAIA World Series before. It's a whole new level of stakes and competition but the newcomers are taking it all in stride.

While they make up most of the starting lineup, the fresh faces are keeping an even keel headed into their first national championship appearances.

"I think it's going to be important for us to not think of it as the biggest stage in softball," freshman shortstop Kaila Mick said. "[We need to] just think of it as another game, because when we start trying to do something special, that's when you get tight and don't play like you [normally] do."

Even with the young team, the veterans on this OIT squad are liking their chances of being the ones to hoist the NAIA trophy when all is said and done. It's a different feeling for them, one they didn't have in 2019 when the Owls last appeared in a softball national championship.

"This is the year that I truly feel like we can make it," fourth-year catcher McKenna Armantrout said. "Previous years, I didn't have that same feeling, but this year, I think we have it."

As the one and two seeds, Southern Oregon and Oregon Tech both have first-round byes and won't play their first game until Friday. Oregon Tech will play the winner of Mount Mercy and Houston-Victoria at 1 pm PT on May 28, with SOU playing right after at 4 pm PT against the victor of the Milligan-Bethany match-up. A full bracket of the NAIA World Series can be found here.

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