After failing to take care of business against Sacramento State a week ago, the softball team said the proverbial “no sweat” and won three must-win games in a row against Loyola Marymount to get into the postseason. The Vikings played a couple of close shutout games on Friday then dominated the Lions 9-3 behind Mandy Hill’s offensive outburst Saturday
When the pressure could be no greater, it was Hill who came through, first with a three-run homer in the first inning and throughout the game with a more than sufficient pitching six-inning effort in which she gave up three runs and struck out four.
Now the Vikings are on their way to the NCAA Softball Regionals in Corvallis as a three seed and will face number two seed Baylor on Friday. And this was supposed to be a rebuilding year. A year to take mesh with new head coach Amy Hayes, who took over after PSU legend Teri Mariani stepped down last year after 29 years at the helm.
But Hayes’ job has been made easier, thanks to the undeniably talented players Mariani recruited. Those players, especially Hill, have stepped up to flat-out dominate the opposition this season.
Take the aforementioned Hill: last year she hit .212 with four homers and 15 RBIs. This year? Try a .322 batting average with 11 homers and 46 RBIs. Not bad for a sophomore “utility player.”
Of course, the only reason Hill is sometimes called a utility player is that she is too good of a pitcher to keep cooped up in the batter’s box. Hill was used mostly in relief last season and compiled a 5-5 record with a 3.00 ERA. In 2006, Hill became the first Viking since 1996 to record a 20-win season. After beating LMU on Saturday, she moved to 23-7 on the year with a paper-thin 1.93 ERA.
So now Hill and her teammates will face Baylor on Friday. The only other time Portland State faced Baylor they were handed a 15-4 blowout. That was in 1999. This year, Baylor is a powerhouse with a 36-19 record and four players hitting over .300.
The Lady Bears are led by junior Chelsi Lake, who has an obscene .374 average to go along with her 16 homers and 48 RBIs. The rest of her teammates are no slouches. Three others besides Lake have hit double-digit home runs, and staff ace Lisa Ferguson is 18-13 with a 1.73 ERA.
Don’t think that the Vikings will be intimidated by Baylor. They’ve beaten Oregon and tourney host Oregon State, Minnesota, Kansas, Purdue and Illinois, not to mention a pressure cooker three-game series against LMU to reach the Regionals.
The Viks also have plenty of experience playing in neutral ground, going 16-6 in those situations. They’ve also proven that they can win in Corvallis after splitting two games at the OSU Softball Complex, the win a 6-4 victory with Mandy Hill on the mound.
The tournament format is double elimination, with the winner of each regional advancing to the Super Regional – a best of two out of three game series. The eight Super Regional winners advance to the Women’s College World Series.
A win over Baylor is completely feasible. When the Vikings beat OSU, the Beavers were ranked No. 8 nationally. The Lady Bears are currently ranked No. 19 in the nation. The situation favors the Vikings. Now they just have to go out, execute and beat a powerhouse Big 12 team. No sweat for these Vikings.