A tale of two seasons

After a 9-0 loss to Oregon State on March 28, the Viking softball team fell to a 10-21 record, a far cry from what would be expected from a team unanimously picked to win the division in the preseason polls.

After a 9-0 loss to Oregon State on March 28, the Viking softball team fell to a 10-21 record, a far cry from what would be expected from a team unanimously picked to win the division in the preseason polls.

However, the Vikings caught fire at just the right time and when the smoke had cleared on the season, PSU softball stood atop the Pacific Coast Softball Conference’s Mountain Division with an 18-2 record—the best conference record in program history.

 Tickets punched to the inaugural PCSC Championship Series, the Vikings headed to Moraga, Calif. to face St. Mary’s College in a best-of-three series. The Vikings took Game One before dropping the next two and losing the series. 

Among the questions the Vikings faced heading into the season, the largest was whether the loss of five members of last year’s playoff squad would be surmountable through the addition of six freshmen and one transfer. Though the transition was slow, it was simply a matter of time and outlook that kept the team going into conference play. 

“We all tried to maintain our positive outlook on everything, because we knew we had talent,” said head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk. “It was just a matter of putting it together. We are also a very young team, as far as how half of the team is newcomers, so it was just going to be a little bit of time before they figured it out.”

Though the team’s youth may have contributed to a slow start, with the team as a whole batting .224 on March 28, the preseason was a showcase for two of the season’s most consistent players. Freshman pitcher Anna Bertrand entered the season already expected to be one of the best pitchers to come through Portland State. She didn’t lower any expectations when she struck out the side in one inning of relief in her debut and then followed it up with a complete game one-hitter against Cal Poly in her third college start. 

Bertrand never slowed down as the season wore on, as she would go on to post one of the finest seasons pitched in school history. Far and away the best pitcher in the PCSC, Bertrand led the league in ERA and strikeouts, posting a 1.61 ERA with 218 strikeouts in 165 innings. The league recognized Bertrand’s accomplishments by awarding her the 2010 Mountain Division Pitcher of the Year.

While senior catcher Brandi Scoggins struggled early along with the rest of the offense, batting .200 through the season-opening Kajikawa Classic and Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament, Scoggins found her swing at the Eller Media Stadium Tournament and never looked back. Against Southern Utah and UNLV on March 5, Scoggins tallied eight hits in eight at-bats with two doubles and five RBI, on her way to hit .367 on the season. 

Scoggins would join Bertrand with her own offseason accolade, co-winning the Mountain Division Player of the Year Award with Idaho State’s Taylor Marchione. 

“It just goes to show that we had great players and they were consistent,” Echo-Hawk said. “That’s the most important thing and it’s a bummer when you have two fantastic pitchers and only one gets the Pitcher of the Year, because Nichole [Latham] is just as deserving as Anna was…you look at Nichole’s numbers and they’re good and what she overcame with her injury, it’s so hard as a coach to say ‘Oh congratulations’ to one player, when you know the other one is just as deserving.”

On April 10, the Vikings entered conference against Northern Colorado, looking to move past the early non-conference record and begin their defense of the PCSC Championship. What lingering doubts remained about the stalling offense were answered when senior infielder De’Chauna Skinner launched a home run that Vikings’ broadcaster and former head coach Teri Mariani described as the longest home run she’d ever seen hit at Erv Lind Stadium. Disappearing into the tree-lined outfield, Skinner’s home run sealed a game two victory over Northern Colorado as the Vikings went on to sweep the four game series over the Bears. 

Skinner epitomized the transition of the Vikings offense from the anemic early season incarnation to the productive and effective version that appeared during conference play. Skinner entered conference batting a mere .143 while slugging only .196. After her home run against Northern Colorado, she went on a tear that would see her hit five home runs in only 50 conference at-bats, as she went on to hit .380 and put up an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.195. 

Much like Skinner, the rest of the offense found their stroke in conference, as the team batted .315 with 12 home runs and 27 doubles, walking 47 times to only 58 strikeouts. Becca Diede would lead much of the attack, as her 16 doubles on the season paced the club and her pen chance for the big hit helped Portland State to several wins. Scoggins, who was on fire all season, broke Portland State’s career doubles record, setting the new mark at 44 two-baggers.

 With conference underway, the Vikings quickly gained steam as the offense continued to click and the pitching staff mowed down opponents with the precision of a surgeon. Both Bertrand and Latham carved apart the PCSC, posting ERA’s of 0.88 and 0.60 respectively while senior Tori Rogers ended her career by posting a 2.10 ERA in 20 innings. 

The Vikings sole losses in conference came against Utah Valley, as Portland dropped two games, 1-3 and 2-3. Going into the third week of conference sitting with a 6-2 league record, the Vikings would not lose another game to a conference opponent until the Championship Series, sweeping through Idaho State, Weber State and Seattle University on their way to face St. Mary’s. 

According to Echo-Hawk the tough early schedule was just what the team needed to propel it forward as it coasted through the Mountain Division to the PCSC Championship Series.

“We have to prepare ourselves before we get to conference because our division isn’t as strong as the Coastal Division,” she said. “We need to make sure that we continue to challenge ourselves throughout the season to prepare for the tournament at the end.”

Despite losing the championship series, Echo-Hawk is more than proud of her team. After facing the adversity of an exceedingly tough preseason, the Vikings can walk away from the season without any doubts as to the talent of the team or where they’re heading next year. 

“The biggest thing was how they dealt with adversity and how they dealt with not being as successful in the beginning,” Echo-Hawk said. “A lot of people were doubting us and counting us out as far as conference goes, and I think the maturity and growth they showed was tremendous and it was great to see them come together as a team and really finish the season as a team.”