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Hot-hitting SOU softball team returns home to face Northwest

ASHLAND — Six weeks into the season, the Southern Oregon University softball team’s bats are activated. And after scoring a whopping 58 times in a four-game sweep of Providence (Mont.) last week, the Raiders have a chance to build on that momentum against another team prone to giving up runs in bunches.

The Raiders (19-7 overall, 4-2 Cascade Conference) will meet Northwest (Wash.) (7-14, 1-5) in their third CCC series this weekend at University Field. First pitch of today’s doubleheader is scheduled for 2 p.m., and the teams will play two more Saturday — the second a nonleague counter — starting at 11 a.m. SOU, riding a five-game winning streak, has taken its last four CCC sets against the Eagles.

The Raiders were No. 14 in Tuesday’s NAIA Top 25 coaches’ poll, which was the first released since they were ranked No. 3 in the preseason. Corban (12-4, 4-0) — the only team without a CCC loss — dropped three spots to No. 8, and Oregon Tech (15-5, 5-1) — fresh off a sweep of College of Idaho — stayed in the receiving votes category at No. 27 overall. A new Top 25 poll will be released every two weeks from now until the NAIA Opening Round.

SOU senior catcher Harlee Donovan left the Providence series with an incredible if not unprecedented feat: In 19 plate appearances, she didn’t make a single out. Donovan went 7-for-8 in the series and walked 11 times against the Argos, reaching on an error in her only average-dropping at-bat. She got a taste of what was to come two weeks ago against College of Idaho, which elected to intentionally walk her five times over the teams’ last three games. After going 4-for-4 with a triple and her third home run of the season in the opening game against UP, she was issued 10 bases on balls over the next three games. (For the sake of comparison, over the first five games of this season, she walked once.)

Donovan last year set single-season SOU records for home runs (11) and RBI (63), and this year is on pace to challenge program records for batting average (.463) and on-base percentage (.519); her average sits at .471 and her OBP at .608. She enters the weekend having reached in 20 consecutive plate appearances and 28 of her last 30. With 26 walks, she has five more than anyone else in the NAIA.

SHORT HOPS

• The Raiders currently top the NAIA in both stolen bases (101), stolen-base attempts (106) and success rate (95.3 percent) — needing only four more steals to reach last year’s total, when they were 28th in the NAIA in steals per game. Their two leaders, Kelsey Randall (31) and Hannah Shimek (16), have yet to be caught. Randall is first in the country in total steals and is now 130-of-148 in her career.

• Randall is closing in on a couple career milestones, needing 17 more hits for 300 and seven more runs for 200. She’s already shattered school records in both categories: SOU’s previous benchmarks were 171 hits and 103 runs.

• The Raiders got stellar pitching against Providence from the newcomers to their rotation, Allie Hancock and Morgan Jones, who combined to allow one earned run in 15 1/3 innings. Hancock picked up two wins, striking out nine with one walk over 9 2/3. The Raiders’ team ERA (2.82) ranks third in the conference.

• SOU’s team batting average against the Argos was .409, shooting from .320 to .336 on the season. Rebecca Velasquez (.390) had eight hits in the series and has recorded multiple hits in six of SOU’s last seven games.

ABOUT NORTHWEST

• The Eagles, who played their inaugural season in 2013, are 4-16 overall against the Raiders and have lost 11 straight in the series. They were picked to finish ninth in the CCC standings and were swept last week by Corban.

•Alicia Loiler (.361, 4 doubles, 2 HR, 14 RBI) and Sammi Caron (.329, 6 doubles, 1 HR) head a lineup that’s produced a .266 average 4.1 runs per game.

• In the circle, they’ll go with senior Hannah Yelas (2.6, 3.74 ERA) and sophomore Rachel Hawley (5-7, 4.67).