ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon softball team returns to action this weekend when it begins Cascade Collegiate Conference play with road doubleheaders against Eastern Oregon today and College of Idaho on Saturday.
Southern Oregon will look to start the conference season strong after going 4-9 in nonconference play. Opening the schedule with the longest road trip of the CCC season offers a challenge, but the Raiders have historically had success against both the Mountaineers and the Coyotes.
"Starting out conference play is huge on the road," SOU head coach Kim Fritts said. "Going there and coming back with some wins is going to be good and tough for us to do, but we're going to work hard and make that happen."
Friday's doubleheader will be against a 7-5 Eastern Oregon team that started the season fast before dropping four of its past five games. Mariebeth Watanabe leads EOU with a .364 batting average, while Alex Hillmick boasts a team-best .806 slugging mark. The Mountaineers have used the long ball to great effect, with Hillmick, Sarah Jackson and Stephanie Maestretti each knocking five home runs to help EOU tally a .504 team slugging percentage.
Conference coaches tabbed Eastern Oregon to finish sixth in the preseason conference poll, and SOU, picked to finish fifth, is 43-19 all-time against EOU. The Raiders' 43 wins against the Mountaineers are tied for SOU's most against any opponent, and SOU has won 12 of the last six meetings between the teams.
College of Idaho, ranked fourth in the CCC preseason poll, enter conference play with a 12-8 record. Alexis Macias leads the team with a .446 batting average and Molly Mills has team highs in home runs (four) and runs batted in (12). Nickayla Skinner is a dual-threat player for the Yotes, batting .400 while leading the CI pitching staff with an 8-3 record and 1.42 earned run average in 11 starts.
"There are no teams in our conference this year that are any easy wins," Fritts said. "This year our conference is probably the strongest it has ever been, and we're probably one of the strongest conferences in the country."
Southern Oregon is 28-21 all-time against College of Idaho, including a season split last year. The teams played one of the longest games in SOU history last season, with the Yotes eventually pulling out a 7-5 win in 14 innings. The Raiders' 49 at bats and 42 put outs in that contest both set new program records for a single game.
The Raiders will look to fire up their offense this weekend and shake off what has been a terrible start at the plate. Southern Oregon hit only .186 through the 13-game nonconference season, leading to a run disparity of 86-39 in favor of the opponents. Julia Willison leads the team with a .290 batting average, while Sierra Anderson boasts a team-high .429 slugging percentage on the strength of two home runs.
Freshman Sydney White leads the pitching staff with a 3-2 record, a 3.70 earned run average and four complete games. She has struck out 34 batters in 41.2 innings pitched.
"We've got to go play our 'A' game, accomplish some things that we have been working on in the last few weeks," Fritts said.