ASHLAND — The young Southern Oregon men's soccer program checked off another essential box on Saturday night at Raider Stadium: the celebratory water-cooler-dump, topping off the most memorable night yet in the team's existence.
Head coach Biniam Afenegus, who started the Raiders from scratch in 2015, was the soaked victim. Moments earlier, he'd watched his team capture its first Cascade Conference championship and an automatic bid in the NAIA National Tournament with a dramatic 2-1 overtime defeat of the Carroll (Mont.) Saints.
With four seconds left in the first 10-minute extra session, Mitchell Pinney found the ball at his feet, 24 yards away from the goal, after a free kick triggered a mad scramble that sent the ball ricocheting around the half circle on top of the penalty box. Pinney wound up and lined a centered shot that hit the cross bar, went straight down and bounced just over the line.
The Saints protested, but the goal was awarded and the Raider bench emptied.
SOU, the same team that went winless in five non-conference contests, finished with a CCC record of 11-1-1. The Raiders shared the regular-season title with sixth-ranked Rocky Mountain but won the head-to-head matchup with the Bears and, therefore, the tiebreaker.
They'll have the top seed in the CCC Tournament — to be held Nov. 3, 4 and 6 in Springfield — and is slated to take on eighth-seeded College of Idaho (9-8 overall, 6-7 CCC) in the quarterfinal round.
SOU will make first appearance in the 30-team NAIA Championships starting on Nov. 18. The opponent and site will be determined following conference tournaments nationwide.
Against Carroll (7-9, 5-8), the Raiders went ahead 50 seconds into the game as Travis Hopkins gathered a ball that deflected off a Saints defender and took a shot 12 yards out from right side that snuck inside the left post. It was his team-leading fifth goal of the season.
In the 55th minute, Riley Prescott delivered the equalizer on an unassisted 24-yard shot that he darted out of SOU keeper Wyatt Zabinksi's reach. It was the first time the Raiders had been scored on in seven October games.
A stalemate ensued, but the Raiders threatened throughout the overtime period with four shots to Carroll's zero. SOU finished with a 16-11 advantage in shots, and both teams put five on goal.
Pinney's goal was his fourth of the season and the ninth of his career.
Next, the Raiders will go for their first-ever postseason win, knowing they'll get a couple shots at the feat.
PORTLAND COMMUNITY COLLEGE 2, ROGUE 0: Portland Community College won the Northwest Athletic Conference to secure first place in the South Division and drop Rogue Community College to second.
The Ospreys (7-3-2, 6-2-2 NWAC) had secured a playoff berth two weeks prior. Daniel Betancourt and Roberto Mora had goals for Portland, which improved to 10-1-2, 8-0-2 in league.
RCC will host Pierce College (8-8-3, 6-3-3) on Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Community Park to open the first round of the NWAC single-elimination playoffs.