CLERMONT, Fla. — The Gabby Sandoval that Marian (Ind.) saw on Tuesday afternoon was far from the one the Knights faced in their NAIA World Series opener four days earlier.
It spelled the end of the season for the Knights.
It meant another day in Florida — and sweet, sweet revenge — for the Raiders.
Sandoval, Southern Oregon’s sophomore ace-right hander, spun an absolute gem for the second straight day, as the Raiders stayed alive at the NAIA World Series by winning yet another elimination game, 2-1 over the Knights, at Legends Way Ball Fields.
“Gabby’s a fighter,” said SOU head coach Jessica Pistole, whose team improved to 14-5 in one-run games this season and 9-1 in elimination games the last two years. “She’s battled through stuff all year at different times and we talked the last couple of days about how to approach this challenge. She was ready to go back out and she went right at them.”
The Raiders (50-14 overall), now one of four teams left at the NAIA World Series, have now won three straight games in the elimination bracket. SOU, seeded sixth, will face No. 2 seed and defending national champion Oklahoma City University (53-8) — which eliminated No. 1 seed Georgia Gwinnett on Tuesday — at 7:30 a.m. Pacific Time this morning.
The SOU-OCU winner will play again right away, facing the loser of the winner’s bracket game between No. 4 Science & Arts (Okla.) and 10th-seeded Columbia (Mo.), the two remaining unbeaten squads in the tournament.
“We’re in a good place,” Pistole said. “We’ve battled through and the girls know they can win every game we have left; it’s just two doubleheaders. They’re loose, and acclimated, and super hungry.”
Coming off Monday’s eight-hit shutout against Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.), Sandoval was able to give both herself and her team another shot at the only team to hand them a loss in Florida so far this year.
The results, both personally and as a team, were vastly different.
In Friday’s tournament opener against Marian (51-7), Sandoval lasted all of one out before Pistole went to the bullpen.
On Tuesday, Sandoval allowed a first-inning run that tied the game at 1-1 — and then was absolutely nails from then on out.
Sandoval’s 20th complete-game effort of the season was the biggest of them all. She pounded the strike zone all game long, throwing 72 of her 109 pitches for strikes. She allowed six hits total — four after Marian scored its lone run of the game — and worked her way around a pair of walks.
In the last two games, both of which are complete games, Sandoval has allowed 14 hits but only one run while striking out six.
“We showed up in the circle and on defense,” Pistole said. “If you have those two pieces, you can stay in any game. I still believe defense wins championships.”
The Raiders, playing as the visitors again on Tuesday, scored what proved to be the game-winning run in the top of the third against Marian starting pitcher Shelby Herron, who got the nod over junior ace Breena Smith after SOU tagged her for six runs and 12 hits in six innings in Friday’s game.
Freshman second baseman Hannah Shimek opened the inning with a single to right, and then stole second to get into scoring position with nobody out. After moving to third on senior catcher Harlee Donovan’s fly out to left, Shimek scored on an RBI single up the middle off the bat of junior DH Rebecca Velasquez.
SOU took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Shimek scored from third after a Knights throwing error.
Shimek, easily one of the hottest SOU hitters this postseason, went 2-for-4 and extended her hitting streak to 14 games. Over that span, she has seven multi-hit games and has raised her batting average from .328 to .357.
Donovan, who had the kill shot in Monday’s win on a towering three-run home run to left, extended her school-record streak of reaching base to 45 straight games when she was hit by a pitch in the first inning.
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.