NAIA Softball Season In The Books

COLUMBUS, GA ( – The Southern Oregon softball team put its “Natty is Now” mantra in place well before ever winning a national championship. Over the last four years, the Raiders have willed the motivational cry into a near-annual fact.

They completed another joyous run through the NAIA World Series by pouncing on archrival Oregon Tech again Wednesday at the South Commons Softball Complex, winning 11-0 in five innings to claim their third title since 2019 and second at the expense of the top-seeded Owls in three seasons.

Each of their championship victories have been marked by game-changing home runs – Paige Leeper’s grand slam against Oklahoma City in 2019, Riley Donovan’s extra-inning blast against OIT in ’21. It was only fitting that they ended this march, which will go down as arguably the most dominant in the 42-year history of the tournament, with two of them.

In the top of the first, Ashton Cathey went to dead center field for a three-run home run that gave the Raiders a 4-0 lead before the Owls had even recorded a second out. And in the top of the fifth, Donovan lifted off to right-center for her NAIA-leading 23rd homer of the season and third in as many games, a grand slam that made the score 11-0 and eventually triggered the mercy rule.

The Raiders (50-12 overall), seeded No. 4 in the 10-team, double-elimination bracket, outscored their opponents 35-2 combined over four World Series outings, posting the highest run total and top run differential ever among teams that have gone undefeated at the final site. Sixteen days after a sub-.500 team, Vanguard (Calif.), put them on the brink of elimination on the first day of the Opening Round, they ended the season on an eight-game winning streak.

Cayla Williams, the player most responsible for their run-prevention efforts, was named the World Series MVP. The senior right-hander capped the week the same way she started it, with the ball in her hand and another complete-game notch on her belt. She shut out the Owls – a team that was not blanked once while retaining the NAIA’s No. 1 ranking throughout the regular season – for the second time in five days, striking out five without issuing a walk while needing just 67 pitches to polish off a five-hitter.

Williams worked all 23 World Series innings in the circle for the Raiders and conceded two runs on 13 hits. She was unscathed over 11 total frames against the Owls, who, prior to the World Series, had tagged her for 13 runs in 8 1/3 innings over four games this spring. She also compiled 10 RBIs at the tournament.

Donovan, the 2021 World Series MVP and reigning NAIA Player of the Year, finished the tourney with team-highs of 11 RBIs and eight runs scored. Over 11 career World Series games, she went 17-for-28 with five home runs and 19 RBIs.

Cathey’s first-inning homer was her eighth of the year. Two batters later, Sammie Pemberton’s single drove in Kami Klapp to give Williams a five-run cushion before she’d thrown her first pitch. Deja Acosta added an RBI single in the fifth, and Donovan slammed the door moments later.

The Raiders had 13 hits, getting two apiece from Acosta, Donovan, Kailer FultonLindsey Stripling and Lauren Weinberg. Including Saturday’s 10-0 victory, they accumulated 29 hits over nine innings at-bat against the Owls (54-10) in the tournament. They’d been outscored 33-13 in their five previous head-to-head matchups this spring, losing all of them.

SOU and OIT were the first teams to meet twice in the final round over a three-season span since Oklahoma City and Simon Fraser (B.C.) in 1999 and 2001.

Eighth-year Raider coach Jessica Pistole, the architect of all five World Series squads in team history, has placed SOU alongside Oklahoma City and Simon Fraser as the only schools in NAIA history with three or more titles.