The record-breaking 32-1 Southern Oregon women’s basketball team continues to make history in Sioux City, Iowa. With Saturday’s 73-67 victory over Tabor, the Lady Raiders advance to their first NAIA Division II Final Four since 1997. Southern will play Goshen College Monday evening at 6pm local time, streaming live on ESPN3.
SOU’s veteran players and stalwart defense were on display early on, as All-CCC seniors Ashley Claussen and Carly Meister scored 14 of the Raiders first 20 and Tabor was forced into eight first quarter turnovers.
But a scary moment at the beginning of the second quarter had Raiders fans and players alike hoping for the best. Taking off from the wing, Cascade Conference Player of the Year, Ashley Claussen drove and appeared to twist her right knee and collapse to the floor. She was helped off the court, and tried to come back in the third quarter, but was unable to.
Head coach Alex Carlson says Claussen’s diagnosis is questionable, but she will try her best to play in Monday’s contest.
Despite missing Claussen, the second quarter was more of the same; Tabor committed six more turnovers and SOU had eight steals for the half, leading 33-26. Meister led the way with 12 points.
A 15-6 Tabor run to start the 3rd quarter gave them their first lead since the first quarter, and the Raiders appeared on the brink of a collapse. Junior forward Autumn Durand as well as Coach Carlson said a major reason they didn’t was their senior guard, who was sitting on the bench watching the game unfold. “When Ashley went down we all came together and said, ‘play for Ashley, she deserves it,’” says Durand.
Carlson shared a similar sentiment, “We’re playing for her now – that was our whole focus at halftime – we want to go as far as we can, for Ashley. Because she’s led our team this far.”
Southern Oregon regrouped, forced a couple more steals, and clung to a 52-50 lead after three quarters of action.
Majerle Reeves and Toria Bradford hit back-to-back jumpers with the shot clock expiring to extend the lead to 61-55 with 6:45 remaining in the game. The madness continued, as another Reeves three in between two Tabor triples had the score at 64-61.
With 3:24 remaining and a one-point lead, the Raiders decided to put the clamps on Tabor. They wouldn’t score another field goal, and Durand scored the final four points to cap off the victory. Carlson says his defense stepped up at the right time, “In tournament basketball, everybody will go on spurts where they’re making shots, so it’s going to come down to if you can get stops. At the right time our team really buckled down and gutted it out and got some huge stops for us.”
Without Claussen, the Raiders got production from their other guards; Toria Bradford had 14 points, and Demi Sahlinger had 8 points and “stepped up from a leadership standpoint,” Carlson said. The Bradford sister pairing combined for 9 of the team’s 13 steals. Meister finished with 16 points, and Durand had 10 points and 9 rebounds.
Following the victory, Carlson shared his feelings on SOU making the Final Four for the first time in 19 seasons. “It’s unbelievable. And to do it as a complete team. When Ashley went down everybody stepped up… We’re really proud to get the opportunity to represent SOU in the Final Four. Without our leader, a lot of people will count us out, but we’re going to try our best to see how far we can take this.”
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