Some of the very first words seniors Kelsey Randall and Harlee Donovan told me about the upcoming softball season included their clear-cut desire and aspirations to get back to the NAIA World Series.
It wasn’t just because that they wanted their last hurrah in Southern Oregon uniforms to be on the biggest of stages.
But when you’ve achieved something that has never been done before in school history like the Raiders did in 2017, the desire to get back to where you just were is pretty easy to talk about.
For Randall, for Donovan and for the rest of the SOU softball team, it’s no longer just something to talk about. It’s a reality. It’s back to Florida and the NAIA World Series.
Twelve months after the Raiders did it for the first time in program history, Wednesday night’s 8-3 win over the University of St. Francis (Ill.) marked the second.
For a team that has taken a business-like approach to achieving their goals this season, the celebration on Field No. 7 at U.S. Cellular Community Park was worthy of the accomplishment.
Same goes for the Gatorade bath that SOU head coach Jessica Pistole got right after the trophy presentation.
(She might have been a little chilly as we had our customary post-game chat outside of the dugout, but she didn’t seem to mind.)
It’s been a journey for this team, one that started in the first weekend of February with a 4-2 loss to William Jessup (Calif.) and has not written its final chapter just yet.
The Raiders entered the season with only Randall and Donovan back from last season’s squad that won a then-school-record 46 games on top of its history advancement to the NAIA World Series.
Despite having to replace six starters — a group that included the entire starting outfield from last season — the expectations were there internally. Having gotten to Florida, the Raiders had no desire to just make it a one-time deal. They wanted to get back, and that was the expectation from the senior class to the freshmen.
As well as a preseason ranking that had SOU third in the nation — the highest SOU had ever received.
Forty-seven wins and a second straight NAIA World Series appearance later, the Raiders have lived up to that lofty preseason billing.
The lineup is obviously built around Randall creating havoc in the leadoff spot and Donovan’s all-around awesomeness at the plate. (Seriously, she’s still hitting close to .450 this season even though teams usually want no business when she’s at the plate.)
But it’s been the other parts of the lineup that have made this a well-rounded offense that can score in bunches even though it’s not full of power hitters outside of Donovan.
SOU’s No. 2 hitter, second baseman Hannah Shimek, is a freshman.
SOU’s No. 5 hitter, first baseman Tayler Walker, is a freshman.
The bottom three hitters in SOU’s lineup, from left to right — Avery Morehead-Hutsell is a freshman, Hannah Wessel is a sophomore and Olivia Mackey is a freshman.
As young as they might have been at the beginning of the season, they’ve shown that they can get it done in the biggest of games the Raiders have had this season.
Throw all of that together — and then get some solid performances in the circle in the decisive winner-take-all game on Wednesday — and you have a team that has proven itself to be worthy of the accomplishment it just achieved.
There will be no “we’re just happy to be here” kind of feeling from the Raiders upon their arrival in Florida this year.
Sure, they’ve gotten to the NAIA World Series, but now they want to leave their mark.
And with winning a Cascade Conference regular-season title, a conference tournament title and an NAIA regional title in a three-week span, who can blame them?
The expectations have been there for months.
Now they want to fulfill them as much as they possibly can.
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.