S. Oregon gains split, nipped by No. 11 Concordia

MEDFORD — Battling the wind, the cold and a potentially devastating injury suffered one day prior, the Southern Oregon softball team showed that it still has life Friday.

And, to head coach Kim Fritts, maybe a little more than that.

"I truly believe that we can hang with any team in the country right now," Fritts said after SOU pushed No. 11 Concordia-Irvine to the limit before falling 6-5. "To me, we are a top 20 team when we play like we are. So if these kids can keep turning it around, watch out, because we are going to be a force to be reckoned with."

The Raiders (2-8) showed that they can compete with some of the best teams in the nation even without staff ace Jordyn Kurtz, overcoming a four-run deficit to defeat Azusa Pacific, 6-4, before nearly pulling off another comeback against the Eagles in the second day of the three-day SOU Invitational at U.S. Cellular Community Park.

It was SOU's second split in as many days after starting the season with six straight losses.

Kurtz, who was named a Cascade Conference all-star as a freshman last season, suffered a knee injury Thursday and was in crutches Friday as three Raider pitchers took over. Lauren Keel, Karri Johnson and Jessica Flores held their own, combining to surrender six earned runs in 14 innings. Not bad, considering that the two freshmen, Keel and Flores, were responsible for all but 11/3 innings of that.

"That's how we're going to work it," Fritts said of her pitching-by-committee strategy. "If we need to make a change, I can't wait. I've got to make that change. We're going to use everybody that we need to to be successful. And as long as our offense is hitting the ball, we'll keep changing those pitchers back and forth if we have to."

They had to early on against Azusa, yanking Keel after the Cougars scored four runs on four hits before the Raiders could notch the second out of the first inning. Johnson took over and shut out Azusa over the next 11/3 innings and Flores pitched the last 51/3, holding the Cougars scoreless on four hits.

The Raiders scored three in the second and one in the fourth to tie the game, then passed up Azusa when Danielle Batson, pinch running for Emily Matekel, scored on an error by Cougars' second-baseman Nicole Llorens. Matekel led off the inning with a single to center field.

Flores was the only Raider with multiple hits against the Cougars, going 2-for-3 with an RBI. She also scored twice.

The Raiders almost pulled off a similar comeback against the Eagles, storming back from deficits of 3-0 and 5-2 to get within a run. SOU's Rayna Okimoto singled home Batson from second to cut the deficit to 6-5, but Kathryn Moy was tagged out while attempting to advance to third on the play, ending the Raiders' last scoring threat.

SOU went down in order in the seventh.

Meghan Laughlin, Bailey Price and Flores each went 2-for-4 against the Eagles, with Price knocking in two runs.

The Raiders shot themselves in the foot by committing three errors against Concordia, but nearly made up for it with some clutch hitting, something SOU struggled with during its 0-6 start.

"I was just talking to the team and I just told them this is a totally different team than yesterday, and from two weeks ago," Fritts said. "We're definitely turning the tide, we're believing in ourselves and we're doing what we can do, and that's hit the ball. We're definitely a very good hitting team. If you'll look at our record, how many runners we've left on base, I think in our first four games we left 32 runners on base, so it's not that we can't hit the ball, we need to start getting them across and now they're doing that. That's why we're starting to get some Ws."

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