At this point in the season, it is finally safe to say that the Portland State softball team is a very special team. The Viks are taking care of business on and off the diamond, resulting in a season unmatched by Portland State standards. After sweeping San Diego in four games this weekend, the Vikings continued their unrivaled success and are currently in prime position to capture their first Pacific Coast Softball Conference title.
“This series is huge,” said head coach Amy Hayes. “The fact that we don’t play a conference tournament means that every game that we go out is do or die. That’s great in one way and in another way it is a lot of pressure, but they have handled it exceptionally well. We control our destiny, we don’t want the future of Portland State to be in the hands of someone else.”
Coming into this first versus second place battle the Viking’s knew if they won they would control their own destiny for the remainder of the season. Winning was exactly what the Viks did against San Diego during their four-game series sweep at Erv Lind Stadium. The Vikings dominated every game of the series and didn’t allow the Toreros to score more than one run in any game, proving to be the superior team on both offense and defense.
The Viking pitching was flawless this weekend, limiting the Toreros to only three runs over the course of four games. With three wins this weekend sophomore pitcher Mandy Hill improved her record to 20-5, becoming the Viking’s first 20 game winner since 1996. Senior right-handed pitcher Michelle Hext picked up the other victory this weekend in spectacular fashion, striking out a career-high 18 on her way to a complete game in ten innings.
At the plate the Vikings did just enough to win. They didn’t necessarily have a slugfest in comparison to previous weekends, but the fact of the matter is the Vikings scored more runs than their opponent. Freshman right fielder Jackie Heide had another impressive weekend by hitting her 10th homerun of the year, establishing a new single-season homerun record. The rest of the Viking bats followed suit with a bit less power by bringing base runners home to score important runs and hitting well over the course the series.
With the series sweep the Viks improve their overall record to 32-14 on the season and 12-1 in conference play. This season marks the first time the Vikings have had a 30 win season at the NCAA Division 1 level, although this is the sixth in the program’s history. If the Vikings capture the conference title they will also receive their first ever NCAA regional birth.
“There are a lot of new faces on this team,” said Hayes. “It is just a chemistry thing, sometimes you get the puzzle right and I think that we have the puzzle right this year. I have to give it up to the girls because whatever happens off the field stays off the field, when it is game time it is on for us.”
When Portland State faces off against Sacramento State next weekend it will mark the final weekend conference series of the season for the Viks. Currently, Portland State is 3.5 games ahead of the second place Hornets and the Vikings control their own destiny, which means that they could return home after the weekend’s four games with the conference title already clinched.
The success that Portland State is enjoying this season may be surprising to many softball fans and opposing teams. However, it isn’t necessarily a surprise for the members of this Viking squad and the coaching staff. Before this season began the Vikings determined just how far their success would extend during the course of the season. In her first year at Portland State Hayes employed a motto that would hold true all season long.
“Our motto this whole year has been take care of the ball,” said Hayes. “It pretty much encompasses everything on the offensive and defensive side. That what we want to do, take care of the ball.”
The Viking’s pursuit to take care of the ball reaches beyond simply ensuring that their defense doesn’t commit errors or the offense performs with timely hitting whenever necessary. This motto of “take care of the ball” propels the Vikings to success in a much more literal manner.
“Day one coach sat us down and said lets figure out our goals,” said junior outfielder Kimi Daniel. “We said PCSC champions and we wrote it on this ball. We wrote all of our goals for the season on this ball and we take care of that ball because it is our motto. One of the girls holds on to it and we bring it out to every game.”
So, before the Vikings ever took the field this season they decided where they would stand at season’s end. Before the first pitch, double play or homerun of this season they had confidence that they could achieve each and every one of their goals. Right now, the Viking’s are only one week away from accomplishing possibly their most significant goal of all, becoming PCSC champions.
This team determined their goals for the season very early and has come to realize nearly everyone of them, displaying a poised and confident demeanor that usually begins with the coaching staff. However, while Hayes and her staff have played an important role, they have left it up to the players to put themselves in a position to win.
“We don’t have team captains,” said Hayes. “Instead we have class representatives that the team votes on. It is not handpicked by the coaches, it something that the team wants. For the most part it has really been them saying this is what they want for the team.”
This has certainly been a special season for the Portland State softball program. One of those seasons that establishes a program and separates it as one of the primer programs in the nation. So far this season the Vikings have played exceptionally well and have held true to their motto to protect the ball. However, they will be challenged down the stretch when they play a doubleheader Wednesday at home against Oregon and in a crucial four game conference series this weekend at Sacramento State.