The target is on Southern Oregon’s back again as the Cascade Conference softball season opens this weekend. During an 11-2 preseason, the Raiders provided ample evidence that they are worthy of it.
The title defense begins at University Field, as SOU hosts Eastern Oregon (1-9 overall) in doubleheaders starting at 1 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday. As with all CCC series, the final game of four-game set will be a non-conference counter.
In the Raiders’ most recent outing, their nine-game winning streak came to an end with a 3-2 setback at William Jessup (Calif.), but their preseason included five mercy-rule wins and sweeps of No. 9 Hope International and No. 16 Corban. EOU — which graduated three all-conference performers from a team that advanced to the NAIA Opening Round — is off to a slow start but lost its last four against NCAA Division II teams.
NAIA Top 25
The Raiders were No. 3 in the NAIA Top 25 preseason coaches’ poll, the same spot where they finished last season. The first poll of the regular season will be released March 12, following SOU’s series next weekend at Carroll (Mont.), and a new poll will be released every two weeks after that. SOU was picked to repeat as the CCC champion ahead of No. 10 Oregon Tech and No. 16 Corban. EOU was picked to finish fourth.
In filling lineup spots previously occupied by the two of the most productive hitters in team history, the Raiders haven’t missed a beat with newcomers Lauren Quirke and Allie Stines, both transfers from the College of San Mateo. Quirke, a third baseman and pitcher, has possessed the CCC’s hottest bat early with a .614 average and 10 extra-base hits. She’s reached base safely in all 13 games and has five outings with at least three hits; no other Raider has more than two. Stines, a left-handed catcher and leadoff hitter, reached base in SOU’s first 12 games with an active eight-game hitting streak that brought her average to .414.
Junior pitcher Gabby Sandoval is off to another strong start a year after breaking SOU’s single-season wins mark with a 27-6 record. She’s 6-1 with a 1.43 ERA, has completed six of the seven games she started and blanked three opponents. She’s up to 47 career victories, already at No. 2 in the Raider record book. Of her last 25 starts, she’s allowed two or fewer earned runs in 20 of them.
After committing eight errors through the first three games, the Raider defense has totaled six in the last 10. Last year, the Raiders had 77 errors compared to their opponents’ 125.
Sophomore second baseman Hannah Shimek has picked up where she left off in last year’s postseason, when she batted .490 (24-for-49) in 13 games. She has an active 29-game on-base streak dating back to 2018 and is batting .413 with team-highs of 13 runs and eight stolen bases on as many attempts.
Senior Tiana Brown is taking advantage of the opportunity she’s gotten with CCC Gold Glove center fielder Hannah Wessel out. She has four multi-RBI games and produced 12 hits, five more than she had all of last season.
The Raiders are batting .378 as a team, 32 points higher than the next-best CCC average. In CCC play last year, they batted .333 in conference play, which was 34 points better than the next best team.
About Eastern Oregon
The Mountaineers placed fourth in the standings a season ago and advanced to the national postseason by making the CCC Tournament title game against SOU. They picked up their lone win this season against Simpson (Calif.).
Senior first baseman Shevan Defreitas, a second-team All-CCC pick in 2018, keys the lineup. She’s batting .400 with a pair of home runs, coming off a nine-homer campaign. Freshman infielder Haley Ebner has stepped in with a .357 average and four extra-base hits.
EOU lost its pitching ace, Haley Kline, and its staff currently owns a 7.46 ERA. Ashton Kazmierski is winless but posted a 3.99 ERA last season, while Amanda Smith has tossed three complete games.
SOU is 58-28 all-time against the Mountaineers and took four of five last year, including a 7-5 decision in the CCC Tournament championship game. EOU won series against the Raiders in 2016 and ‘17