Kim Fritts isn't ready to label Southern Oregon a small ball team just yet. But, she's watched the Raiders in the batting cages and in games enough to know what will work and what won't.

Kim Fritts isn't ready to label Southern Oregon a small ball team just yet. But, she's watched the Raiders in the batting cages and in games enough to know what will work and what won't.

And she's planned accordingly.

"My philosophy this year is we're just going back to old-school softball," said Fritts, who enters her sixth season as SOU's head softball coach. "You get a runner on, you bunt her over, you score, you win. We have power and we're going got get our fair share of home runs. But we've got to manufacture runs, and that's how we're going to win games.

"Last year we won games on home runs. We're not going to win games on home runs this year."

The Raiders (10-6) were supposed to put that philosophy to the test in the games that really matter starting today, but their Cascade Collegiate Conference-opening doubleheader at Concordia was rained out and tentatively rescheduled for March 26. Saturday's twin bill at Northwest Christian has also been postponed, pushing SOU's league opener to March 24 against 23rd-ranked Corban.

Led by sophomore Rayna Okimoto, last year's Raiders often overpowered opponents with the long ball. Okimoto paced SOU in almost every statistical category offensively, batting .430 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs to boost a Raider squad that belted 26 homers as a team.

But instead of returning for her junior year, Okimoto, feeling home sick (according to Fritts), decided to return to her native Hawaii.

A loss like that may be considered a major blow, but Fritts says she's not worried about the offense. The numbers show why: Southern Oregon, which has won nine of its last 12 games, is scoring 5.6 runs per contest, batting .314 and has a .502 slugging percentage — better than last year's Raiders in all three categories.

"We're solid in all aspects of our offense," Fritts said. "I put a challenge to my team two-and-a-half weeks ago about bunting skills and they rose to the occasion, and it's been great. They've stepped up. If there's a runner on second, they know they have to put the ball on the right side of the field. This team's knowledge of the game is tremendous."

Junior third baseman Irene Barrantes, who had nine homers last year and has belted three already this year, senior left fielder Katie Moy, junior shortstop Stephanie Vandenbusch and senior pitcher Jordan Kurtz give the Raiders plenty of pop.

Moy, who bats third in the lineup, leads the Raiders with a .412 batting average and is tied with Barrantes with the team lead in both runs (13) and RBIs (13).

Kurtz, SOU's most experienced pitcher, is batting .379 with two home runs in the cleanup spot, while Barrantes (.396, three HRs) bats fifth and Vandenbusch (.378, .667 slugging) sixth.

Kurtz and sophomore Karlie Stephens, a former Eagle Point standout, anchor a pitching staff that has a combined 3.57 ERA. Kurtz (5-2, 2.60 ERA) has pitched 43 innings and Stephens (3-2, 2.72) 38 2/3. Junior Chelsea Talbert (2-1, 6.06), who has pitched 17 1/3 innings, may also see action.

"We put some challenges in front of (Stephens) as a freshman — we challenged her last summer to make some changes — and she rose to the occasion and made those changes," Fritts said. "I would love for our (team ERA) to go down, but if they can keep that they're going to keep us in ball games. What I ask of my pitchers is to keep us in the ball game and we'll win you games."

The Raiders finished fourth in the Cascade Conference last year and were picked fifth (out of seven) in the league's preseason coaches' poll. Defending national champion, and No. 1-ranked, Oregon Tech was the coaches' pick to win the conference, followed by Corban, Concordia, College of Idaho and SOU.

Oregon Tech pays a visit to University Field on March 27.

Fritts says the Raiders will not be intimidated.

"This is the best team I've had since I started (at SOU)," she said. "Our expectations as a team — what we've realistically have talked about — is winning a conference championship. This team has put so much time and effort into it, they're not going to go down without a fight.

"We have some pretty high expectations, some lofty goals. I believe in this team. They can do anything that they put their minds to."