Raiders want trip to nationals

Physically, Southern Oregon will be a long shot at this weekend's Cascade Conference softball tournament.

Emotionally, mentally, interim head coach Kolby Schooley believes the Raiders are up for the challenge.

"They don't back down against pressure," Schooley said. "They've stepped up in games when they've needed to."

And they'll need to again Friday at Delta Park in Portland, where third-seeded SOU (16-22) will play second-seeded Corban (22-21) in the first round of the three-team affair, with the winner slated to play top seed and No. 4 ranked Concordia in a best-of-three showdown that will conclude Saturday.

The tournament champion earns an automatic berth to the NAIA National Championships, which begin May 20 at the Wilson Morgan Softball Complex in Decatur, Ala.

Southern Oregon will have to defy the odds to keep its season going. It wouldn't be the first time. The Raiders were picked to finish second to College of Idaho in the CCC preseason coaches poll, but lost staff ace Jordyn Kurtz, who was a Cascade Conference all-star as a freshman in 2009, to a season-ending knee injury in their fourth game.

Three pitchers have shouldered the load in Kurtz's place — junior transfer Karri Johnson, and freshmen Lauren Keel and Jessica Flores.

Losing arguably their MVP so early in the season did not change the Raiders' expectations. They still aim to grab school's first-ever trip to nationals.

"It would be huge," Schooley said. "It's been our goal from the beginning of the year. We knew we had a really good team. It's been our goal and we haven't strayed from it."

Schooley said Johnson is the likely starter for the first game, but added that all three should see action. The trio has been serviceable, if not spectacular. Johnson, in a team-high 23 appearances, is 8-8 with a 4.10 ERA, Keel is 4-3 with a 4.94 ERA and Flores is 4-8 with a 3.89 ERA.

"All three of them have done an excellent job of stepping into starting roles," Schooley said.

Concordia and Corban were the top two hitting teams in the conference during the regular season, with the Cavaliers batting a league-best .340 and the Warriors a distant second at .308.

Southern Oregon, led by Flores and junior Meghan Laughlin, is batting .287. Flores leads the team in both batting average (.390) and slugging percentage (.506), while Laughlin is batting .361 with 10 doubles, three triples and a team-best 24 RBIs.

The Raiders were the masters of the doubleheader split this season, taking one of two games in 10 of their 12 Cascade Conference twin bills. That includes a pair of splits against both Corban and Concordia.

SOU is the only team in the league that's beat Concordia more than once this season. The Raiders are hoping they get another shot at the Cavs Friday afternoon. And then, who knows.

"We're excited," Schooley said. "It's an awesome opportunity. We've done pretty well against (the Cavaliers) in the past. Our girls really step up against them. They have a great team, so we can only hope to go out and play our best game."

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