The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
With three straight wins to start the season, the College of San Mateo softball team has done nothing to tarnish its No. 1 ranking among California Community College teams.
For a team that is accustomed to making big statements, however — the Bulldogs have outscored opponents 29-1 through their first three games — Friday’s 3-0 win over College of the Siskiyous showcased another side of CSM’s softball virtuosity.
While two Bulldogs pitchers combined on a five-hit shutout, it was the sterling defense played behind them that kept Siskiyous off the board. While there were no web-gem caliber plays to highlight, CSM’s solid fundamentals, time and again, saved the extra base, which led to Siskiyous stranding eight base runners in the game.
“The defense is playing well,” CSM head coach Nicole Borg said. “That’s a really high point, especially when your offense isn’t putting runs on the board.”
While the typically potent Bulldogs offense currently ranks seventh in the state with a .410 batting average, they managed to scratch out just three runs Friday. But after jumping out to a first-inning lead when sophomore Harlee Donovan rocketed an RBI double to center field to score Meagan Wells, the CSM defense went on lockdown.
CSM’s incremental defensive gains actually started in the top of the first to help CSM starting pitcher Morgan Jones escape a bases-loaded jam. After a two-out walk to Jena Ovens, cleanup hitter Maggie Waymire laced a single to left-center; but Bulldogs freshman center fielder Kristen Kowaki, who had been shading toward right-center, sprinted to the opposite gap to cut the ball off, holding Ovens at third.
Then in the fourth inning, CSM turned in a series of critical defensive plays to strand two more Siskiyous runners in scoring position. The Eagles started the potential rally with Sage Gomes throwing a flare down the left-field line for a single. The knock had “double” written all over it, had it not been for freshman shortstop Meagan Wells chasing down the ball in foul territory and hurrying it back to the infield.
“That’s always something in the back of my head,” Meagan Wells said. “It helps my pitcher to know we’re going to play defense behind her. Anytime we do that, she’s going to pitch better. … Defense is key. It’s always a priority to get it done.”
Not only did Meagan Wells’ play prove key when Siskiyous sophomore Alex Peruzzi followed with a double up the right-center gap. But CSM right fielder Riley Wells made quick work playing the ball off the wall and hitting younger sister Meagan Wells with the cutoff throw to keep the runners at second and third.
Donovan — CSM’s full-time catcher this season — then turned in a nice scoop on a pitch in the dirt to keep the runner at third from scoring on a wild pitch.
A career catcher, up until last year, Donovan played mostly third base as a freshman with now-graduated Lelani Akai catching a majority of the innings. But after seeing some game time behind the plate last year, and catching nearly every day in practice, Donovan has managed a seamless move back behind the plate.
“I felt I was up to speed (on opening day), even though I had the first-game nerves,” Donovan said. “But today I settled right in.”
Donovan’s first-inning RBI single showed how she’s settled in at the plate as well. Currently hitting .500 (5 for 10) with one home run and six RBIs, CSM’s No. 3 hitter had to get creative to produce in her initial at-bat. With Meagan Wells on second base and first base open, Donovan chased two balls out of the strike zone before dropping the hammer on a low changeup to get the Bulldogs on the board.
The California home run queen last season with 20 bombs, Donovan said the approach she took Friday wasn’t optimum. But, whatever it takes to get the job done.
“I wouldn’t say that’s my game plan, but today that’s what worked,” Donovan said.
It isn’t that Donovan isn’t capable of exercising patience. She drew a leadoff walk in the fourth. Then after a sharp single to left by cleanup hitter Jordan Davis, Donovan scooted home on a wild pitch. Dean later delivered a two-out single to drive home Davis.
In the circle, Jones worked five shutout innings before giving way to Dean, who fired two perfect frames to close it out, with more help from Meagan Wells who again flashed some shortstop skills with two nice plays in the seventh.
The sister act of Meagan and Riley Wells — who are one year apart — are a staple of San Mateo softball, dating back to their days playing ASA club softball starting with Meagan Wells’ 12-year-old season. They also played three years together at Hillsdale.
“I love it,” Meagan Wells said of playing together again. “Especially back-to-back at the top of the order. We’re always known as the ‘Well-y’ sisters. It’s good to bring it to another level.”
Note: CSM now travels to Gavilan College for a doubleheader Saturday. The Bulldogs rematch with Siskiyous in the first game at noon, then take on Gavilan at 2 p.m. The games were originally scheduled to be played at CSM, but were moved to Gilroy to accommodate the traffic from CSM hosting the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team vs. NFL Alumni game.