ASHLAND — After spending the past four weekends in California, the time has finally arrived for the Southern Oregon University softball team to get a chance to play on its home field.
The Raiders, however, have been forced to wait a few days to actually do so.
Not only was SOU greeted by a couple of inches of snow upon its return from Northern California at the beginning of the week, but the Raiders have been forced to push back their home opener that was originally slated for this afternoon and Saturday due to a winter storm that is set to roll through the Rogue Valley. As a result, the Raiders will now host College of Idaho in a pair of doubleheaders to open Cascade Collegiate Conference play scheduled for noon and 11 a.m. on Sunday and Monday, respectively.
Per CCC rules that were put into place before the start of the 2017 season, the first three games of every four-game set count in the conference standings with the series finale being played as a non-conference game.
The Raiders, who enter their conference opener at 13-5 overall, are coming off their first non-winning weekend of the season after splitting doubleheaders against Menlo College and William Jessup last week.
Prior to its loss to Menlo last Saturday, Southern Oregon had ripped off seven straight wins.
The goal with SOU’s 18-game non-conference schedule that saw the Raiders spend the first four weeks of the season on the road, as head coach Jessica Pistole said before the year, was to prepare for the tough conference season ahead.
Having to replace six starting position players from last year’s team that went 46-15 and became the first-ever SOU squad to make the NAIA World Series, it also served as the first chance to see three-quarters of a new starting lineup play together for the first time.
The Raiders’ offense has been led by a pair of seniors, catcher Harlee Donovan and shortstop Kelsey Randall — which probably isn’t much of a surprise to Pistole and her coaching staff.
Randall, SOU’s All-American leadoff hitter, once again has one of the best averages on the team, as she enters the conference opener hitting .368 and leads all of NAIA with 20 stolen bases. (She hasn’t been caught stealing yet, either.) Donovan — who set single-season school records in home runs (11) and RBIs (63) as a junior — has picked up right where she left off a year ago, recording a team-best .417 average and driven in 17 runs in the opening month of 2018.
The rest of the Raiders’ offense has been plenty complimentary, too.
SOU enters its CCC opener fourth in the conference with a .330 team batting average. And while the Raiders have played more games than anybody else in the conference, they are the only CCC team with over 100 runs so far this season.
But the Southern Oregon pitching staff, led by CCC Pitcher of the Week Gabby Sandoval, will most certainly be tested by the College of Idaho bats over the course of the four-game series.
The Yotes — who arrive in Ashland with a 9-2 record — not only hold the CCC’s longest winning current win streak at five games, but are tearing the cover off the ball through the first month of the season.
College of Idaho have recorded a CCC-best .391 average and are averaging nearly nine runs per game. The Yotes have scored eight runs or more in a game seven times this season, nearly matching their total from all of the 2017 season.
Fittingly, on the back of their red-hot offense and a pitching staff that is tied for the second-lowest team ERA in the CCC (2.71), the Yotes have already achieved something they didn’t all of last year — being seven games above the .500 mark.
College of Idaho finished with a 23-23 overall record.
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.