The article below originally appeared on MercuryNews.com and is being reprinted with permission.
SAN MATEO — It took Nicole Borg and her softball staff at College of San Mateo a total of seven years to reach 300 victories, plus a doubleheader on opening day of the 2016 season.
The Bulldogs (2-0), ranked No. 1 in the state, kicked off their campaign at home Thursday with a 6-1 defeat of Merced in the morning, then a 20-0 five-inning, mercy-rule trouncing of Yuba in the afternoon for the landmark 300th win.
“So that’s a huge milestone for us to hit together,” said Borg, who spent two seasons as an assistant coach at CSM at the tail end of the 30-year tenure of Tom Martinez and took over the program in 2009. “Just lots to forward to look forward to and lots to be grateful for and proud of this season. We’ve just got keep working, put down our head and go. And state rankings don’t mean anything to me.”
Indeed, it’s a bit puzzling as to why the Bulldogs, last year’s state runner-up, edged out Palomar in the rankings, which shows up at No. 2. The 2015 champion returns its ace Summer Evans — the only pitcher to defeat CSM last season, a feat she accomplished twice at the state championships in Bakersfield.
That’s impressive against a team that went undefeated during the regular season an finished with a 43-2 record, compiling scary numbers along the way to lead the state in runs, batting average — a ghastly .419 — and home runs. But the bats were silenced in th end, as Evans allowed four runs in a span of three games against the Bulldogs.
To come so close only to watch someone else celebrate is not easy to shrug off.
“I don’t think I’m even still over it,” said CSM slugger Harlee Donovan, who as a freshman hit 20 of the team’s 66 home runs. “But it helped motivate this team and motivate us as sophomores returning to go back and play better, do everything better this year and just get back to the same spot. Because we want to win and it just hurts so bad to have that feeling. Now it makes us want it that much more.”
Borg added: “It’s always going to bother me because we got beat by the same person twice. Same team, but I say same person because Summer Evans did a really good job in that state championship. And to go up against the quote-on-quote best offensive team in the state and pretty much shut them down, you question your preparation, you question, ‘Where we ready for it?’ And, I think, the answer is yes. We just did not make the adjustments we needed to make. So that’s a constant emphasis from our coaching staff to our players, is we have to be able to adapt to the current environment — whether it’s the pitcher we’re facing, the umpire we have, whatever it is right now. Not your next at-bat, right now you have to make the adjustments. So, I think, you just keep preaching that and you hope that they listen and continue to get better. It’s always a progression. You start from ground zero every single year.”
Not counting a pair of redshirts, CSM fields a 12-player roster split evenly among sophomores and freshmen. That includes sisters Riley and Meagan Wells, with the former as one of the savvy veterans.
“I think we’re starting to become a real family,” Donovan said. “And there’s a lot of really talented freshmen. They’re definitely a blessing.”
Everyone got to play in the doubleheader, including freshman pitcher Morgan Jones. Her debut in the circle against Merced was a reunion of sorts, since her catcher Donovan played the same role while teammates at Half Moon Bay High.
“I think she’s going to be a big dawg this year, that’s for sure,” Donovan said. “I’ve played with her all my life. We’re both from the same town and she’s grown so much since she’s gotten here.”
Jones, who picked up the win after going six innings in which she allowed two hits, a walk and one run, will be required to make an immediate impact after the departure of a potent 1-2 punch of Lauren Berriatua (29-2, 1.04 ERA) and Lacie Crawford (14-0, 1.44), who combined to log all but four of the innings for the Bulldogs last season.
Others such as fellow freshman Samantha Dean, who tossed four shutout innings against Yuba, scattering two hits and a walk while striking out five, and sophomore Christy Peterson, who closed each win with a scoreless frame of relief, will be tasked with easing her workload. But Jones is at CSM for one reason only: to pitch.
“I mean, that’s what she does,” Borg said. “She doesn’t hit, she doesn’t run the bases, she is a pitcher. And from the moment we got her until now, the progression has been really great.”
It’s obviously still early, but the defense acquitted itself by not committing a single error, even pulling a nifty double play in the top of the fifth against Yuba on a comebacker to Dean, who turned and fired to shortstop Megan Wells covering second, who in turn whipped the softball to Donovan at first base.
As far as the offense, every hitter in the starting lineup crossed home plate at least once against Yuba, with an 11-run first inning accounting for more than half the damage.
The big blow was a three-run triple by Donovan that missed clearing the fence by inches for a grand slam.
“I thought it might go out, but then it didn’t,” Donovan said. “But it was OK, because last year I didn’t get a triple. So I was happy.”
On her next turn at the plate, Donovan atoned by crushing a first-pitch offering.
“She made sure she got the next one,” Borg said of what should be the first of many home runs to come for Donovan. “It’s definitely a challenge for a 19-year-old student-athlete to come off a freshman season that she had. It was a pleasant surprise for the coaching staff to have a freshman who hit 20 home runs last year. But for her, she’s got to realize that she’s got to do her thing. Can’t press, can’t try to be better than she was last year, she’s just got to play the game. And if she does that, she’s going to do really well.”
Donovan finished 3 for 4 with four RBI against Yuba, and counting a double against Merced she hit for the cycle on opening day.
What could be another prolific offense compiled 29 hits in 11 innings, with Peterson going 5 for 7 with three runs scored in the doubleheader, while leadoff hitter Meagan Wells went 4 for 7 and drew a pair walks, also contributing four RBI against Yuba.
“It’s pretty jittery the first couple of games,” Donovan said. “So it’s nice to finally settle back in and get it done.”
All that was left to ask after was whether Borg remembered the first of her 300 victories at CSM. The answer explains what motivates these Bulldogs.
“I don’t,” Borg said. “But I remember my last loss. I do remember that, play-by-play if you want to go over it.”