Shorter got its wish, then made the most of the opportunity.
Southern States Athletic Conference Co-Freshman of the Year and LFO alum Maddie Bray tossed a complete-game three-hitter and Shorter's five first inning runs proved to be enough as the 10th-ranked Lady Hawks eliminated the No. 7-ranked reigning champ Oregon Tech from the NAIA Softball National Championship with a 5-1 victory on Saturday afternoon in Gulf Shores, Ala.
Shorter (49-11) now advances to the eight-team, double-elimination national tournament that begins Monday morning and, as champion of Pool G, will take on the winner of Pool B, which features Cal State San Marcos and Southern Nazarene in its title bout later tonight.
The Lady Hawks, in the midst of their sixth straight appearance in the NAIA Softball National Championship, won their pool for the third straight season. Oregon Tech (41-8) was denied a chance to become onlythe third repeat national softball champion in NAIA history after embarking on a surprising run to the title in 2011.
This time, it was Shorter that sent waves through the tournament, upending the Owls with a five-run flurry in the first and more clutch pitching from its unflappable freshman.
The Lady Hawks jumped on Oregon Tech starting pitcher Taylor Schmidt, who had allowed just three earned runs through her first 14 innings in pool play. Schmidt didn't make it out of the first as Amanda Dailey and Maddie Bray hit RBI-doubles and Whitney Hood and Kellee Stone two-out RBI-singles to put Shorter up 5-0. The Lady Hawks sent 10 batters to the plate in the first inning and Shorter's rally didn't end until reliever Melissa Logan got Charlsie Broome to ground into a fielder's choice.
That was all Bray needed.
Oregon Tech's best chance to get to Bray came immediately following Shorter's big bottom of the first as Schmidt was hit by a pitch to lead off the Owls' second and Kayde Schaefer followed with a double to put runners on second and third with no outs. Bray rose to the occasion, however, recording three straight strikeouts to keep Oregon Tech off the scoreboard and set the tone for her 16th win of the year.
Oregon Tech got on the board in the fifth when Janelle Cromie doubled and then scored on a passed ball, but that was all the Owls could manage off of Bray. Bray's final line read no earned runs on three hits with five strikeouts; enough to produce her second win of the tournament after she got the win in relief in Shorter's victory over Madonna (Mich.)on Friday.
Shorter's eight hits were spread among eight different players. Bray, Dailey and Jackie Castaneda each hit doubles for Shorter, which for the second straight tournament game played error free in the field in support of Bray.
Schmidt reentered the game late and took the loss after allowing five runs on five hits in 2.2 innings of work. Oregon Tech's top three batters combined to go 0-for-7 on the day.
The Elite Eight of this year's tournament could have an overwhelming SSAC flavor. Shorter joins Auburn-Montgomery as SSAC members that have already punched tickets to the national tournament. William Carey, Lee and Brenau all play this evening with a chance to win their respective pools.
Shorter's first game in the national tournament bracket is set for 11 am ET on Monday.