The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
College of San Mateo softball’s all-time home run queen is heading north. Harlee Donovan — who slugged 37 career homers through two years at CSM and earned 2016 California Community College Fastpitch Coaches Association Northern California Player of the Year honors — is transferring to Southern Oregon University to play at the up-and-coming NAIA program in Ashland, Oregon.
The power-hitting catcher committed to play for Raiders head coach Jessica Pistole on June 9. A native of Half Moon Bay, Donovan said she felt at home in Ashland, which she attributed to the similarities of the two small towns. She will also have two former Lady Bulldogs to help her settle in, as 2015 CSM transfers Kayleen Smith and Lacie Crawford played at Southern Oregon this year.
“I think the atmosphere and the softball program is a perfect fit for her, so I’m really happy about that,” CSM head coach Nicole Borg said.
With Southern Oregon advancing to the NAIA World Series amid its first postseason appearance in 10 years, Donovan will be thrust into a program gunning for a national title. It’s a welcome dynamic for Donovan who twice advanced to the California Community College state championship tournament.
The Raiders have two catchers slated to return in 2017, both of whom were marginal hitters while splitting time behind the plate this year. Donovan said she expects to compete for the starting catching job, a role at which she excelled as a sophomore.
“From the sounds of it … [Pistole] wants to win, so she’s going to play her best nine,” Donovan said. “I’m not too worried about it. It’s going to take work and I’m willing to work for it. Nothing is going to be given to me. So that’s what I’m expecting there.”
Donovan will be driven by a need for redemption. Both her state championship appearances for CSM ended in disappointment. As a freshman — when she played the corner infield with then sophomore Lelani Akai anchoring the team at catcher — Donovan led the state with 20 home runs on a Bulldogs team that settled for state runner-up after falling in the championship game.
This year’s elimination was even more stunning. After winning the tourney opener, the Bulldogs were one out away from defeating Sacramento City to advance to the championship game through the winners’ bracket with a loss to give. Then, leading 5-3 with two outs and no runners on, the unthinkable happened as Sac City rallied for three runs to take a 6-5 lead in the top of the seventh.
CSM freshman Jordan Davis led off the bottom of the seventh with a solo homer to tie it at 6-6. But forcing extra innings only delayed an eventual loss in 10 innings. Then, falling to the losers’ bracket, the Bulldogs were suddenly facing an elimination game in Game 2 of a doubleheader marathon. They lost to eventual state champion Santiago Canyon, seeing a dominant season end at 30 minutes past midnight, the first half hour of Borg’s birthday no less.
“That Sac City was our game … and it sucks because I know if we won that game we would have won it all,” Donovan said. “You can never go back and think about it that way but that’s the way I’m going to remember it.”
Now, Donovan is setting her sights forward, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Smith as an immediate impact player for Southern Oregon. As a transfer junior, the shortstop Smith hit .384 with a team-best 38 RBIs en route to earning All-West Region honors.
“First things first, I want to win conference as a Raider,” Donovan said. “And from what I hear, we have a team that can win a national title. So that’s a goal going into for me.”
Donovan’s biggest challenge stands to be living so far from home. Having lived in Half Moon Bay her whole life, she comes from a tightknit family both on and off the softball diamond. Her younger sisters Abbey and Riley both played at Donovan’s alma mater Half Moon Bay High School, with Abbey intending to play at CSM in 2017.
Off the field, the family still abides by weekly dinners every Sunday evening, which Donovan only misses when she is away playing for state championships. Her foray into four-year college life will be her first extended leave from the tradition.
“That’s probably going to be the hardest thing about it is being without them,” Donovan said. “That will suck, but I think I will be OK.”