For the first time since 1997, the Lady Raiders of Southern Oregon will be in the national quarterfinals, following a 81-70 victory over Briar Cliff. SOU had to overcome a four point halftime deficit Friday evening in the 2nd round of the NAIA Division II Championships in Sioux City, Iowa.
The Chargers of Briar Cliff were beating SOU at their own game early on, forcing the Raiders into quick shots and ill-advised passes, leading 21-19 over Southern after one quarter and 42-38 at halftime. Senior guard Ashley Claussen kept her team in it in the first half, scoring 11 points on three three-pointers to compensate for 12 Raider turnovers and 3-11 free throw shooting.
Head coach Alex Carlson says he challenged the team’s toughness at halftime, “We just thought the other team was being tougher and kind of outworking us for rebounds and some of the hustle plays.
The Lady Raiders answered their coach’s challenge, outscoring Briar Cliff 27-12 in the third, including a running 35-foot buzzer beater by junior Demi Sahlinger to end the quarter. SOU appeared in control, leading 65-54, but a five minute Raider scoring drought to start the fourth brought the Chargers within 3, cutting SOU’s lead to 65-62.
That was when junior Autumn Durand decided to rip the Charger’s heart out. She hit a three with five minutes remaining, then got open on a cut to the basket to give her team a 70-64 advantage. Claussen’s subsequent three pointer and another Durand jumper put the game out of reach.
Coach Carlson says the All-CCC duo’s clutch plays are due to a simple fact. “It just comes down to they’re great players. Ashley Claussen’s an All-American; she might be the best play in the country at this level… She does so many things and Autumn’s the same way. They’re just elite players.”
In a game where All-CCC post Carly Meister was in foul trouble, SOU needed contribution from other players. And they got it. Seven Raiders scored at least six points, led by Claussen’s 22 points, Durand’s 16 points and eight rebounds, and Sahlinger’s 10 points. Durand says this ‘extra’ contribution is paramount to the team’s success. “We needed players to step up and that’s exactly what happened tonight. Everyone made a huge play at some point and that really turned the game around.”
With the victory, SOU improves to 31-1 on the season, and will advance to a much-anticipated quarterfinal matchup against Tabor. Tabor knocked the Raiders out of nationals in the 2nd round last year, and Durand didn’t mince words when asked about the revenge factor headed into tomorrow’s contest. “Oh man, for us it’s a huge game. We’re so excited to completely stick it to this team. They have no idea what’s actually coming. Revenge is the perfect word.”
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