By Maren Angus
DJ Sanders stepped to plate in the bottom of the fifth inning against Cal State University Northridge on Friday afternoon and patiently awaited the pitch.
Last year’s NCAA Division I leader in home runs (29) and runs batted in (89) had yet to hit one out in 2018. After going 0-for-3 with five walks, Sanders got the pitch she was waiting for and sent it over the left field fence.
“I was just trying to have an at bat where I finally made good contact,” Sanders said. “I had a bunch of at bats but I walked in half of them, I got hit and I just hadn’t had, what I thought, was a good quality at bat yet and that’s what I was trying to have that time around.”
The NFCA First-Team All-American’s transfer wasn’t easy. It started when Louisiana head coach Michael Lotief was fired on Nov. 1, 2017. Then, Gerry Glasco was hired on Nov. 20 and Sanders announced her transfer on Nov. 27.
Oregon was the first program Sanders made contact with during that time but she wasn’t sure if she was going to play in 2018 or not. It was the persistence of the Ducks’ staff that comforted her and ultimately led her to Eugene.
“Back in that time there was a lot going on,” she said. “I wasn’t sure of anything but they made me feel sure of this decision.”
A lot needed to happen in a short amount of time for her to be eligible. While Sanders was taking finals at Louisiana, she had to get her release, get her physical, sign with UO and fly to Oregon before she joined the team for its trip to New Zealand.
“I was running around trying to get everything done,” said Sanders with a smile. “It was a mess, my flights got messed up and I landed 12 hours past the time I was supposed to get there. I didn’t get to catch my breath until we got to New Zealand.”
Through four games, Sanders has three home runs, something that is, surprisingly, new for someone who has 51 career homers. In her previous three seasons at Louisiana, it took her nine, 14 and 46 games to reach where she is now.
The reason could be as simple as being in a lineup with where she blends in rather than standing out. In each game, Oregon head coach Mike White has batted Sanders seventh. According to White, when he creates his lineup he splits it in two. He has one through four and then five through nine. To him, Sanders is hitting third in the second half of the lineup to drive in runs.
“I hit the same no matter where I am in the lineup. My approach doesn’t change, my mindset doesn’t change, I’m just surrounded by great hitters,” Sanders said. “It’s awesome not having to worry about losing the game if I don’t get a hit. Now, it’s so what if I don’t get a hit, the girl in front of me and behind is going to get a hit. It’s comforting to know and takes a lot of pressure off of me.”
The last time Sanders hit in the bottom half of the lineup was her freshman year in Lafayette. In 54 games, she had a .290 batting average, 40 hits, four home runs and 27 RBIs. Her career hasn’t been the same since.
“Every time someone else hits a home run I’m like, ‘Great, I hope they forget about me,’” chuckled Sanders. “They don’t need to know who I am. I’m just going to try and hide in the bottom of this lineup, ya’ll just keep hitting home runs too and I will just be chilling here.”
Hiding probably won’t happen for the Ducks’ shortstop but if the thought helps her produce junior year-like numbers, Oregon will be just fine with that.