The top teams in the Cascade Conference have performed as expected up to this point, which means 14th-ranked Southern Oregon’s series against No. 7 Corban this weekend at University Field is just as critical as it looked in the preseason.
Corban (19-5 overall, 9-1 CCC) and the Raiders (26-8, 10-2) will cross the halfway point of the conference schedule during their four-game series, set to play out in doubleheaders at 2 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday. They possess the top spots in the standings — followed closely by Eastern Oregon (9-2) and Oregon Tech (9-3) — and have positioned themselves to make deep runs again. Last year, the Warriors swept SOU on their way to a CCC regular-season title before the Raiders beat them for the tournament championship. Both teams ultimately made their first appearances at the NAIA World Series, and Corban finished as the national runner-up.
SOU stayed at No. 14 in Tuesday’s latest NAIA Top 25 poll, which featured a third CCC team for the first time this season. Corban moved up one spot to No. 7, and Oregon Tech jumped from the receiving-votes category to No. 24. On the same day the poll was released, Corban won two of three games against OIT in a series that was reduced from four games to a tripleheader and moved from Salem to Medford due to rain.
SOU’s recent hot play has coincided with the uniform decision made by opponents to stop throwing strikes to Harlee Donovan, and junior Rebecca Velasquez’s recent surge is a major reason why. Donovan leads the NAIA in walks with 32 — only three other players in the NAIA, including teammate Kelsey Randall, have been issued more than 20 bases on balls — but Velasquez has made pitchers pay for their caution since being inserted into the cleanup spot behind Donovan. Over the Raiders’ last 14 games, Velasquez is 25-for-50 at the plate with six doubles, 15 RBI and 16 runs scored — raising her batting average from .267 to .446. She’s second on the team in average and on-base percentage (.507) to Donovan, who is hitting .473 with an absurd .614 OBP and 36 RBI.
Randall, two weeks removed from becoming the first Raider to score 200 runs, is now six hits away from 300 in her career. For the sake of perspective: Only four other Raiders have more than 150 career hits, and Katie Moy is second on the list with 171. This season, Randall leads the NAIA in runs (42), stolen bases (39) and defensive assists (109). She’s up to 138 steals on 157 attempts, and for the sake of more perspective, the Raiders stole 95 bases combined in the four years before she joined the team.
SHORT HOPS
• In terms of earned-run average, SOU starters Allie Hancock (5-0, 2.05 ERA) and Gabby Sandoval (12-3, 2.06 ERA) rank fourth and fifth in the conference. They’ve tossed a combined 112 2/3 innings
• During the Raiders’ 12-game winning streak — which ended Sunday in a nonleague loss to British Columbia — they batted a combined .417 and averaged 1.8 runs scored per inning. Their conference win streak remains active at nine games.
• SOU’s six freshman position players have posted a combined batting average of .335 (131-for-391). The Raiders’ team average last year was .323.
• Since Jessica Pistole became the head coach in 2015, the Raiders are 48-18 at home.
• Donovan has reached base safely in 15 straight games. Through the first 14, she reached base at least twice every game. With 99 career RBI, she’s three shy of tying the team record. And with 16 home runs, she’s four away from matching that record.
ABOUT CORBAN
• After Oregon Tech ended the Corban’s win streak at 11 games on Tuesday, the Warriors needed a seventh-inning rally to take the rubber match of the series, 5-4. They’ve given up more than four runs on just four occasions this season.
• They returned the 2017 CCC pitcher of the year in Sabrina Boyd, who tops the conference with a 1.63 ERA to go with an 11-1 record and a .226 opponents’ average. She’s pitched 81 2/3 innings, and no other Warriors has tossed more than 23.
• Maddy Melton (.438, 23 runs), Kaylee Buhrkuhl (.407, 6 2B) and Mahina Chong (.407, 14 XBH) top a lineup that collectively bats .323. Jessie Isham (.310, 8 XBH) was last year’s CCC newcomer of the year.
• SOU leads the all-time series, 34-30, though Corban has won 10 of the last 11 CCC regular-season counters.