Raiders hit road to face ranked opponents

The bad news for the Southern Oregon softball team is that it will spend its first week of the season on the road. A lot.

The good news is, the Raiders won't have to wait long to find out how they stack up against some of the best NAIA teams in the country.

Southern Oregon will travel through Southern California Thursday through Saturday for three doubleheaders, two against No. 3-ranked Point Loma Nazarene and No. 20 CSU-San Marcos. The Raiders, who were not ranked but did show up in the "others receiving votes category in Tuesday's preseason poll, open their 2010 campaign Thursday at Vanguard.

Southern Oregon, ranked second in the Cascade Conference preseason poll, returns most of the roster that finished 22-15 last season, minus one significant loss — All-American leadoff hitter Strohm Fouty. The top returners are conference all-stars Meghan Laughlin, Jordyn Kurtz and Kathryn Moy.

"Missing (Fouty) is a big deal and we need to find someone to take over that leadoff role," said SOU head coach Kim Fritts, the defending Cascade Conference Coach of the Year. "But overall I really like our chemistry and the leadership we have this year. They are focused and have set some high goals for themselves."

Leading the group of returners is Laughlin, a junior outfielder. Laughlin set a school record last year with a .463 batting average and also added a .667 slugging percentage and a .479 on-base percentage. She also had a team-high 33 RBI's.

Moy, a sophomore, will move from full-time designated hitter last year to starting left fielder this year and will try to fill Fouty's spot at the top of the SOU batting order. Moy hit .373 last year with eight strikeouts.

Newcomers Sarah Wharton, a junior from Ontario, and Danielle Batson, a junior from Pateros, Wash., will battle for time in right.

The Raiders have also added some much needed pitching depth to go behind Kurtz, although SOU's ace may not need much help. As a freshman, Kurtz earned all-conference honors by going 21-14 with a 2.32 ERA and struck out 188 batters. At the plate, Kurtz hit .364 and was second on the team with 25 RBI's.

Karri Johnson (jr./Delta, B.C.), Jessica Flores (fr./Corning, Calif.) and Lauren Keel (fr./Fullerton, Calif.). give the Raiders three quality pitchers behind Kurtz.

"To come in and put up the numbers that Jordyn did as a true freshman is amazing," Fritts said. "This year we won't need her to pitch every inning and that will really help her for the long haul."

In the infield, the Raiders are counting on senior Karla Alvarez at third, senior Justine Fulton at shortstop, freshman Rayna Strom-Okimoto at second and senior Bailey Price at first. Senior Danielle Stratton, who has played both third and first for the Raiders, is recovering from a preseason injury.

Emily Matekel and Sara Stenson will handle the catching duties this year.

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