MEDFORD — Harlee Donovan has gotten used to teams not giving her much of anything to hit from the start of her first plate appearance to her last.
In her first at-bat on Monday, Donovan got a pitch from Simpson University starting pitcher Sydney Moorhead that was too good to pass up. And the result was something that would have plenty of pitchers Southern Oregon has faced this season going, “Yeah, been there.”
Donovan’s two-run home run in the top of the first inning not only broke the school’s career record but proved to be the hit that quickly kicked Southern Oregon’s offense into gear, as the top-seeded Raiders — who were playing as the visitors — racked up 17 hits on their way to a 9-1 win over the Red Hawks in the first game of the NAIA Opening Round at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
“I felt like it was a big momentum starter for us,” Donovan said of her home run, her 11th of the season and 22nd of her SOU career. “When Kelsey (Randall) gets a big hit, that is what usually sparks us. For me to get it going was a big part of, I feel like, our success today because we get the momentum right away and we kept it the rest of the day.”
With thunderstorms expected later in the day Tuesday, games will begin two hours earlier than originally scheduled.
That means the Raiders’ winner’s bracket game against Northwestern College (Iowa) — which beat No. 2 seed University of St. Francis 4-2 in Monday’s opening game — will be at 9 a.m. instead of 11 a.m., with the winner getting to kick back and relax the rest of the day after wrapping up one of the two spots in Wednesday’s regional final.
“It makes such a difference to come out and be fresh, so we’re planning on playing one game a day mainly because that’s what we’re capable of, not necessarily because we’re afraid to play tired,” Donovan said.
The Raiders’ 17 hits were their highest hit total since they recorded 19 in a 13-3 win over the University of British Columbia on March 25.
The top of the SOU lineup — Randall, second baseman Hannah Shimek, Donovan and designated hitter Rebecca Velasquez — were on base a combined 13 times in their 20 plate appearances against Simpson.
Randall drove in three runs, including a two-run inside-the-park home run in the fourth, while Shimek — last week’s CCC player of the week — went 4-for-5 and scored three runs.
Eight of SOU’s nine starters had at least one hit in the game.
The early two runs proved to be all the run support that SOU starting pitcher Gabby Sandoval needed.
After giving up a run in the bottom of the first on an RBI double by first baseman Mia Olvera, the Raiders’ sophomore right-hander settled into
Case in point: Simpson had two hits in its run-scoring first. The Red Hawks had two hits the next five innings.
Sandoval — who is unbeaten in her last eight starts — allowed six hits and struck out four in her 18th complete game of the season, improving her record to 23-6.
“She settled in and I feel like Gabby stayed composed this entire game, so when she put somebody on or Simpson got a hit she was right back ready to attack the next batter,” SOU head coach Jessica Pistole said. “She did a great job.”
SOU broke the game open with four runs in the fourth and another one in the fifth to take a 6-1 lead.
Randall — who just a half-inning earlier ended the bottom of the third with a diving stop up the middle and off-balance throw to first base — turned on a Moorhead offering and nearly sent it out, only to have the ball hit the yellow piping at the top of the wall and ricochet back toward the infield.
Randall, who has 50 stolen bases this season, simply flew around the bases, beating the Simpson throw home to make it 4-1.
“I never think I’m going to hit it over, but I definitely watched it. It hit the top of the wall and I was like, ‘Oh man, we gotta go,’” Randall said. “Just run fast, just run fast.”
There was no hesitation from Pistole in the third base coach’s box, either.
“If there’s anybody who has a shot of making it, it’s Kelsey,” Pistole said. “I thought there was a good chance that thing was gone, but then when I saw it ricochet I was like, ‘Come on, come on,’ and my arm was waiving super fast.”
Velasquez and first baseman Tayler Walker followed up Randall’s home run with back-to-back RBI singles to center. An inning later, Randall drove in her third run of the day with an RBI single to right field to make it 7-1.
Walker, who had a pair of hits and was on base three times, made the score 8-1 with a perfectly executed squeeze bunt in the top of the seventh.
“It was good coming out and trying to play our game,” Randall said. “We want to play our best game every game and it was definitely awesome to have Harlee start that off. Just the runs to follow after were definitely awesome.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.