ASHLAND — Only one team stands between 11th-ranked Southern Oregon and its third straight championships appearance in the Cascade Conference Tournament presented by U.S. Bank.
The No. 2-seeded Raiders (26-3 overall) and No. 3 seed Northwest Christian Beacons (23-5), ranked 17th at the NAIA Division II level, will square off in the semifinals at 8:30 p.m. tonight inside Mountain Avenue Gym. NCU, working on the best season in team history, will attempt to add another notch to its belt and advance to Monday's title game for the first time. On the other hand, the Raiders can clinch an automatic national tournament berth if they win and top-seeded Eastern Oregon defeats No. 4 seed Oregon Tech in the other semifinal.
Playing potentially their final game at Mountain Avenue Gym, the Raiders come in with a 35-3 home record since moving over in 2015-16. They've won 31 of those by double figures.
In Tuesday's opening round, SOU eliminated Warner Pacific, 99-80, by matching a season-high with 13 3-pointers on a season-best clip of 46 percent from downtown. Remi Mejia had 26 points and four steals, Ariel Augustine totaled 22 points and 10 boards, and the pair combined for nine triples.
NCU survived in overtime against Corban, 63-59, after watching a 15-point second-half lead slip away. Anamaria Virjoghe had 22 points and five blocks and hit a free throw with 16 seconds left to force OT.
Eastern Oregon's 91-59 win against Evergreen (Wash.) was its 22nd straight overall. The Mountaineers held the Geoducks to 17 points in the second half. Oregon Tech trailed by four going into the fourth quarter of its 60-57 win over College of Idaho, getting a lift from the bench as Amanda Constant scored eight of her team-high 14 in the second half.
Since the tournament started in 1995, the Raiders have won it six times: in 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2016. SOU defeated Oregon Tech for the 2016 title, but Eastern Oregon knocked off the Raiders in last year's final, 74-69, after the teams finished as co-champions in the regular season. The Raiders have qualified for 12 consecutive CCC tournaments and Tuesday's win was their sixth straight in the quarterfinals. Their only previous postseason matchups with NCU were wins in the 2008 quarterfinals and '16 semifinals. SOU is 8-9 overall in the semifinal round.
The Raiders are 21-3 all-time against the Beacons after sweeping the regular-season series, 66-54 on Jan. 12 in Eugene and 77-59 on Feb. 11 in Ashland. In the first game, Remi Mejia had 18 points and four steals and the Raiders ended the night with eight unanswered points in the final three minutes. In the second, Mejia and Toria Bradford combined for 47 while helping keep the Beacons to 34-percent shooting, as SOU raced out to a 15-point halftime lead and never looked back. NCU's last win in Ashland was on Jan. 28, 2011.
The CCC gets two automatic bids to the 32-team national tournament. The first was claimed by regular-season champion Eastern Oregon, and the second will go to the tourney champ — unless EOU claims that title, too, in which case it would go to SOU by virtue of owning the No. 2 seed. The championship game will be hosted at 7 p.m. Monday by the highest remaining seed and broadcast live on Root Sports Northwest. The national tournament will be held March 7-13 in Sioux City, Iowa, and the field will be announced next Wednesday. Due to their high rankings, both NCU and the Raiders are in position to at least receive at-large bids, but the deciding poll will be released the same day the field is revealed.