CLERMONT, Fla. - They waited through 12 hours of delays, knocked out the back-to-back defending champions and ran on fumes until 2:55 a.m., but the Southern Oregon University softball team's tank finally hit empty a few hours before sunrise Thursday at the NAIA World Series.
Columbia (Mo.), the No. 10 seed, finished off the No. 6-seeded Raiders with a 6-2 win in the dead of the night at Legends Way Ballfields. The Cougars scored three in the third inning, striking first with Alexandra Linck's two-run single off the wall, and three more in the sixth, keyed by Dakota Newton's two-run double to the right-center field gap.
Cougars pitcher Lexi Dickerson (16-4) won her fourth game of the tournament in a six-hit complete game. After Harlee Donovan roped a two-run double in the third inning, cutting into Columbia's 3-0 lead, Dickerson set down 13 of the final 15 Raiders she faced.
The Raiders ended the best season in team history with a 51-15 record, Cascade Conference regular-season and tournament championships, an NAIA Opening Round title and four elimination wins at the World Series - outlasting 186 of the 188 teams in the NAIA.
Over how many days did they squeeze in their run of loser's bracket wins? The answer to that question depends on your penchant for technicalities. After losing their tournament opener against Marian on Friday, 10-6, they were down to their last out Saturday when they scored three runs in the seventh to beat Mobile (Ala.), 5-3; they hammered Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) on Monday, 9-0; they got payback against Marian on Tuesday, 2-1; and they took down the most decorated team in the country on Wednesday.
Their matchup with No. 2 Oklahoma City - which won the 2016 and '17 titles, and owns 10 overall - was originally scheduled for a 10 a.m. start Wednesday but was delayed three different times. The first pitch finally clocked in at 10:34 p.m., and Gabby Sandoval was eventually a 3-2 winner in her third consecutive complete game after Tayler Walker's two-out, bases-loaded walk forced in Kelsey Randall for the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth.
The next elimination game started a little more than half an hour later, at 1:09 a.m., in order to keep Thursday afternoon's championship schedule on course. The Cougars were on standby for a couple hours before taking the field; prior to the SOU-OCU matchup, they lost a four-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning and ultimately a 7-6 decision to No. 4 Science & Arts (Okla.) in nine innings.
Since losing five consecutive games in mid-April, the Cougars have won 14 of 15. They got out of the Opening Round as a No. 3 seed to advance to the World Series for the second straight season. They also eliminated the Raiders in 2017, 5-2, in SOU's four game of the tourney.
The game was the last in the careers of Randall, one of the most accomplished players ever in the NAIA, and Donovan, who put forth the biggest season in SOU history.
SOU 3, OKLAHOMA CITY 2
Southern Oregon knocked out the defending champion, No. 2 Oklahoma City, by a score of 3-2 in a game that started late Wednesday and wrapped up past midnight at Legends Way Ballfields.
The No. 6 Raiders (51-14) won their fourth consecutive elimination game after dropping their tournament opener, and their third in a row by way of a Gabby Sandoval complete game. Sandoval (27-6), a sophomore from Anaheim, Calif., broke SOU's single-season record for pitcher victories with a five-hitter in which she neither walked nor struck out a batter, but induced 15 groundouts.
She and the Raiders got the lead in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Tayler Walker drew a full-count, bases-loaded walk with two outs that forced home Kelsey Randall. Randall started the inning with a walk before Hannah Shimek singled and Harlee Donovan was issued a free pass.
Randall tallied two of SOU's six hits and drew a pair of walks. She scored another run in the third inning on a passed ball paired with a wild throw to make it 2-1. Olivia Mackey lined a two-out single in the second to drive in the first run and even the score.
It was the Raiders' 10th win in 11 elimination games dating back to last season.