HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Southern Oregon isn't done making history yet. After their third and fourth straight elimination-game victories on Wednesday afternoon, the NAIA World Series awaits the 20th-ranked Raiders for the first time.
Trailing 2-0 in the winner-take-all finale of the Hattiesburg Bracket, SOU strung together four runs in the top of the fifth inning en route to a 6-2 win over the No. 22 Southeastern Fire at Fail Field. To set up that game, the Raiders first had to defeat the Florida-based Fire earlier in the day and did, 2-1, using Taylor Martinez's two-run double in the first inning as their only offense and keeping 10 Southeastern baserunners from crossing the plate over the final four innings to hold on.
SOU (44-13 overall) dealt a pair of losses to senior Lindsie Scholwinski, the Southeastern ace who shut them out in Monday's bracket opener and a year ago helped the Fire (43-17) get one win away from the national title game. Before meeting her for the second and third times, the Raiders stayed alive Tuesday by eliminating Indiana University Southeast, 11-2, and seventh-ranked host William Carey, 3-0.
On May 26, they'll make their World Series debut in Clermont, Florida. SOU will be the No. 8 seed will open the 10-team, double-elimination bracket at 9:30 a.m. Pacific Time on May 26 against No. 9 seed Indiana Wesleyan. The winner will play top-seeded Oklahoma City (64-1) at 4:30 p.m. the following day.
"It's pretty unbelievable," SOU head coach Jessica Pistole said. "They're on a mission. We just executed so many parts of the game really well and played fearless. This team is not gonna go down easy."
Near the end of the day, however, there were suspicions that they had run out of gas in the 87-degree heat. Southeastern went ahead in the second inning of Game 2 on Cat Maldonado's RBI double and a throwing error on a double steal that allowed her pinch-runner, Sammy Jacobson, to score, and Scholwinski rolled through the first four innings.
With one out in the top of the fifth, No. 9 hitter Aaliyah Oliver sparked the rally with a single up the middle. Kelsey Randall, who was hitless in her first eight at-bats against Scholwinksi, followed with a single on a hit-and-run, and Kayleen Smith loaded the bases on a bunt single. Harlee Donovan's two-run liner up the middle tied it, and the Raiders went ahead on Tyler Burke's perfectly-executed squeeze bunt that allowed Smith to cross the plate before the tag. Taylor Martinez's sacrifice fly then made it 4-2.
The Raiders tacked one on in the sixth when Abigail Lund led off with a double down the line and Smith tripled her home, and another in the seventh on pinch-hitter Nicole Cardoza's RBI single that plated Burke.
"We didn't make the adjustments we needed to early on but we felt like it was going to happen; it never felt like our last game to anyone," Pistole said. "Getting that leadoff single from Aaliyah was huge, and when Kelsey broke through we knew we finally had the momentum."
Victoria Mackey made the lead stick. After watching from the bench as freshmen Karlee Coughlin and Gabby Sandoval dominated the first four games of the tournament, the sophomore replaced Sandoval in the second inning and finished with 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to improve to 7-0 and drop her ERA to 0.77. She allowed five hits, walked two and struck out one.
Coughlin (17-2) earned the Game 1 win and Sandoval picked up the two-inning save, both wiggling out of trouble again and again late. Coughlin got out of bases-loaded jams in the fourth and fifth innings; Sandoval escaped a first-and-third situation in the sixth by way of a lineout that resulted in a double play; and in the seventh, Sandoval left runners at second and third as Sam Holcomb popped up to Donovan behind the plate.
For the first time since 2005, the Raiders have allowed two or fewer runs in six consecutive games.
"(The pitchers) were just outstanding all week," Pistole said. "No one on the staff is overpowering but they all complement each other really well. They all kind of had short leashes today but that's the way it is when you trust everyone to be able to do the job."
At the plate, Smith ended the tournament 9-for-12 with five runs scored, four RBI, a pair of walks and two extra-base hits. And after going 0-for-3 in the opener, Donovan went 8-for-15 with six RBI, four runs and two doubles over the last four games.
The Cascade Conference will be represented by two teams, SOU and Corban, in the World Series for just the second time in its history. The other was in 2015, when Oregon Tech and former member Concordia (Ore.) advanced.