SOU settles for split

Jordyn Kurtz the junior is starting to look like Jordyn Kurtz the freshman, and that's a good thing for the Southern Oregon University softball team.

Kurtz, who spent most of last season recovering from a knee injury after a solid freshman campaign, took another big step back to a full recovery Friday, throwing a six-hit shutout against Corban in the first game of a Cascade Conference doubleheader at University Field.

"I'm really proud of the strikeouts I'm getting, the strength of my knee and the defense behind me," Kurtz said. "It's just coming together really well."

The 5-foot-5 right-hander struck out 10 without a walk in the opener — a 5-0 Raider win — then watched four teammates surrender seven earned runs on 12 hits in a 13-2 Game 2 setback.

The split allowed the second-place Warriors (15-10, 7-3 Cascade) to maintain a two-game lead over the third-place Raiders (8-11, 5-3) in the league standings.

With yet another impressive performance, Kurtz, who blew out her right knee early last season and never returned, continued to make a case to become SOU's every-game starter, a position she seized as a freshman. After a rough preseason, Kurtz has soared since the start of league play, surrendering just four earned runs while striking out 26 batters in 27 innings.

"We got the things worked out in preseason that we needed to with (Kurtz), and as you saw today she's on fire," SOU head coach Kim Fritts said.

Fritts then balked when asked whether Kurtz should start both ends of SOU's doubleheaders.

"Maybe "… we'll see," Fritts said. "I'm not going to even answer that. I've got to trust in my staff, and this is the first part of conference so this gives me a chance to see where the rest of my pitching staff is going to be."

Considering the stakes, Friday's gem may have been Kurtz's best outing yet. The Raiders and Warriors entered the day separated by one game in the conference standings, and SOU desperately wanted a sweep to pass up the Warriors and start gaining momentum for the second half of league play.

Kurtz did her part, scattering six hits across seven innings and casting aside every scoring threat, starting in the top of the first, when she struck out Corban cleanup hitter Rachel Conard with a runner on third.

Kurtz also nixed scoring threats in the fifth and the sixth to improve to 3-4.

Designated hitter Gia DiMaggio was the only Raider to have multiple hits in the first game against Corban senior Makenzie Marchbanks, who went the distance for the Warriors in Game 1. DiMaggio was 2-for-3 in the opener with a RBI triple in the sixth that gave SOU its final run.

Corban's defense did the rest. It committed three costly errors, leading to four unearned runs. Marchbanks (6-6) struck out four with three walks in defeat.

The second game was all Corban. The Warriors scored four runs on three hits in the first inning, rocking SOU starter Karlie Stephens.

Tamara Feb ripped a two-run single to begin the thrashing.

The visitors from Salem added another run in the third and two in the fifth before delivering the knockout blow in the sixth, when No. 9 hitter Lounette Jackson cranked a grand slam home run to right-center for the final margin.

"It's always easier to play with a lead," Corban head coach Nathan Ohta said. "If you can jump out four-nothing early, and everything's loose, you're having a good time and it puts pressure on the other team. I think that's what kind of happened today. Once we got rolling, it just kind of kept going."

Stephens gave up four runs on two hits before getting yanked with one out in the first. She was replaced by Jessica Flores, who allowed three earned runs on seven hits.

SOU's Rayna Okimoto, Melissa Corn and Sarah Wharton each went 2-for-3 at the plate to lead the Raiders' offense, which managed nine hits in all but struggled with runners in scoring position. Corban junior Emma Winckler struck out two and walked two in six innings to help the Warriors leave Ashland with the split.

SOU will try to improve its playoff position today against Northwest Christian (7-15, 1-7). The top three teams in the final Cascade Conference standings will compete in the league tournament, with the winner there qualifying for nationals.

"It's going to come down to the conference tournament, in my opinion," Fritts said of the playoff race. "I just don't see there being one dominant team. "… We all are just going to beat each other up and it's just going to come down to who has the healthiest team in the conference tournament."

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