COLUMBUS, Ga. — The Raiders found themselves in an early hole, down 2-0 to the 7-seed Mount Mercy Mustangs after the first inning. But they never panicked, taking the lead in their very next trip to the plate, a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game.
There were plenty of tense moments over the course of the game where the Mustangs threatened to retake the lead. The battle-tested SOU crew, however, never faltered in the face of adversity and did the one job they set out to do: survive and advance.
They’ll have to do it twice again on Tuesday to keep the title defense alive.
In the first inning, Hannah Shimek was caught stealing for just the third time this season in 35 attempts resulting in an unconventional 1-2-3 inning for the Raiders at the plate.
With Lauren Quirke getting the start, Mount Mercy came out swinging, resulting in two runs on two hits and a pair of fielder’s choices. A diving play in right field by Olivia Mackey though gave the Raiders the jolt they needed in the top half of the second inning.
Riley Donovan roped one to the fence in the right-center gap to lead off the inning. Tayler Walker traded places with her to cut the two-run lead in half. The next two batters put the ball in play but couldn’t get Walker past third base.
With two outs, Mackey decided she wanted to help with the bat after doing it with the glove. She hit a line drive over the head of the left fielder for an RBI triple to tie the game. Avery Morehead-Hutsell followed it up with a hard-hit ball ruled to third. It was ruled an error, but it scored Mackey either way to give SOU a 3-2 lead after being down entering the half-inning.
An inning later, Quirke helped out her own cause with a double to the left-center wall, scoring the speedy Shimek from first base to push the Raiders lead to two. Rylan Austin would reach on an error with two outs, allowing Quirke to score from third. SOU took a 5-2 lead into the bottom half of the third.
Mount Mercy battled back in their next trip to the plate. They picked up two runs, but it could’ve been more as the Mustangs had the bases loaded with one out. A 4-3-6 double play got SOU out of the jam, limiting the damage and preserving the Raiders’ lead.
Quirke settled in from there, throwing another inning and two-thirds before being replaced by Gabby Sandoval. The Raiders’ ace got the first batter she saw to pop out and preserved the team’s one-run lead.
Looking to add some insurance runs, the Raiders came out swinging. Shimek and Quirke singled followed by a walk drawn by Donovan. Walker hit a SAC fly to center to score Shimek, making it a 6-4 ballgame. Austin hit a ground ball to the pitcher and Quirke seemed to force an error at third with some smart base running, freezing in-between second and third even though there was a force out. She was sent home and thrown out at the plate.
Winterburn came out swinging and an error by the Mustangs’ second baseman scored Donovan and Austin. The Raiders took an 8-4 lead into the final inning.
Sandoval returned to the circle to record the final three outs and secure another day of softball for the Raiders. She gave up a single but struck out two before Mackey made another diving catch in right field to end the game.
Southern Oregon will need to win two tomorrow to advance to the title game. The first one will be played at 1 pm PT against the winner of the Madonna-Bethany game. A win there would mean a meeting with the loser of Monday’s winner’s bracket final between Cascade Conference foes Oregon Tech and the College of Idaho.