SOU senior catcher Harlee Donovan only continues to be at heart of Raiders’ success

ASHLAND — Ask Southern Oregon senior catcher Harlee Donovan about hitting and her face will immediately light up like a kid on Christmas morning.
Throwing out a runner at second, yeah, that’s cool and all. But hitting, which Donovan is coincidently quite good at, is her passion.
“Hitting is my favorite part of the game,” Donovan said as a massive smile quickly formed. “I love it. I love hitting, and I just think it’s so fun. That’s the most competitive part of the game for me is being on offense and it’s just always been my most favorite thing. In practice, in games, it’s just my favorite part.
“Of course defense is fun, but offense will take the cake any day.”
When you’re rolling into a rivalry series like SOU has this weekend against Oregon Tech and you’re batting average is a cool .466, it’s easy to understand why Donovan has such a love for what she does at the plate.
It’s what she does. And it’s what she does quite well.
She was arguably the best hitter amongst California junior college players during her two years at College of San Mateo in 2015 and 2016, including leading the state in both home runs (20) and RBIs (78) while striking out just five times as a freshman. And ever since Donovan first put on an SOU jersey last spring, there is nothing unlucky about what No. 13 has accomplished.
Donovan not only hit .367 in his first season, but tied SOU’s single-school record with 11 home runs
This season, the Raiders have one of the highest-scoring offenses in all of country, and Donovan is right in the heart of it all.
The numbers Donovan has put up are gaudy, to say the least, and easily some of the best in the Cascade Conference.
• She leads the CCC in hits with 54.
• She leads the CCC in RBIs with 47.
• She leads the CCC in doubles with 13.
• She leads the CCC in total bases with 89.
“She’s just a rock for our team in so many ways,” SOU head coach Jessica Pistole said. “She’s just a great leader, she works really hard, she’s super honest and able to communicate with everybody. She not only leads with her life and by example, but she also says what needs to be said — and then she brings it on the field. She has all of those pieces, and obviously as a coach that’s the ideal thing to have in a catcher, not just a player, but a catcher who’s the rock on the field, too. I think she does that in every way, and she’s awesome at it.”
All of this while teams continue to pitch around Donovan, who also just so happens to lead the conference in walks with 38 — nine ahead of teammate and fellow senior Kelsey Randall — and on-base percentage (.590).
“I’ve changed my approach, and it’s been a process up to this point,” Donovan said. “I didn’t know what to do at first, so now I get in the box and I pretend that every pitch is going to be there. If I get one pitch, I’m going to go for it and I don’t take any pitches for granted. I try to swing at the best ones, and usually that comes early in the game. After that, if they choose not to pitch to me, I know the next person will get it done and I just take my base happily because that’s all I can do.”
But as important as Donovan is to SOU’s offense — she’s batted third in the Raiders’ lineup pretty much from the get-go — her value is equally as high behind the plate.
Being a senior is a natural leadership position. Being a catcher is also a natural leadership position. Being a senior catcher on a team that entered the 2018 season having to replace six starters from a team that booked its first-ever trip to the NAIA World Series, that’s just Donovan checking every box there is.
Donovan has embraced that role — both with the Raiders’ young position players as well as their young starting rotation, which features two sophomores (Gabby Sandoval and Karlee Coughlin) and a true freshman (Allie Hancock).
“One of the things that makes her even better is just her ability to relate to the rest of team and her willingness to share with them in her experiences,” Pistole said. “Her career has been a journey — figuring out the mental side of the game, combining great talent with toughness and grit and being open to share life with people. There’s absolute buy-in from everybody around her in that way.”
Donovan, a native of Half Moon Bay, Calif., chose to make Ashland and Southern Oregon where she would finish her collegiate career because it felt just like home.
It just so happens that she’s at home leading the Raiders in what has been another highly-successful season to date.
“I’m definitely not excited (for the season) to come down to a close,” Donovan said, “but I’m excited for what this team can do and excited to hopefully have left this program better than when I got here.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

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