Off to the races

The Vikings used the experience gained from a preseason that featured some of the best programs in college softball to sweep Northern Colorado in a four-game conference opening set at Erv Lind Stadium.

The Vikings used the experience gained from a preseason that featured some of the best programs in college softball to sweep Northern Colorado in a four-game conference opening set at Erv Lind Stadium.

Despite entering Pacific Coast Softball Conference play with a disheartening 10–21 record, head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk believes the early season challenges prepared the team for a conference that preseason polls predicted they would win. 

“Even though we didn’t win in our preseason, we still learned a lot about ourselves. We had this fight that we knew was in there, it was just a matter of time for it to come together,” Echo-Hawk said. “The reason why we played that hard of a schedule was to prepare for conference, and I think the kids are seeing the benefits of it now.”

The wealth of experience led to a dominating four-game sweep of the Grizzlies in a series the Vikings never trailed in. Behind back-to-back shutouts from Anna Bertrand and Nichole Latham, the Vikings combined to throw 16 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings until an RBI single by Grizzly pitcher Kelli Henderson broke the streak in the bottom of the third inning in game three of the series.

“We have to be on it [to achieve that]. The pitchers did a nice job, and though a couple got themselves into trouble, they got themselves out and I think that shows a lot of maturity and strength,” Echo-Hawk said. “At the same time, the defense made some pretty fantastic plays to help us out…if the pitchers need a big play, that’s what happens…it was nice to see them work so well together.”

Bertrand was dominant yet again, striking out a career-high 12 batters en route to a tight one-run victory in game one. In a quintessential pitching duel, the Vikings needed only one run to topple the Grizzlies as the scoring was over after the first inning. 

Leading off the bottom of the first inning, junior right fielder Brandi Campos hit a ball to left field that Northern Colorado outfielder Jessie Schoepflin couldn’t handle, resulting in a two base error—the first of seven for the Grizzlies over the series. Campos later came around to score on a passed ball that went through the legs of catcher Kelli Henderson as the Vikings began to make a habit of taking advantage of Grizzly mistakes.

In a 4–0 victory in game two, starter Latham was given more than enough run support to turn in her finest performance of the season. In Portland State’s second shutout of the afternoon, Latham pitched seven innings without allowing a walk while conceding only four hits. She was dominant throughout the series, pitching 10 innings—three of them in relief—and picking up two saves without giving up a run.

Leading by a run entering the bottom of the fourth, Lacey Holm walked to lead off the inning before being replaced by pinch runner Alyssa Roblez. After Roblez stole second, senior first baseman De’Chauna Skinner promptly deposited a Melissa Ryba offering into deep left field, with the ball disappearing into the trees lining the back of Erv Lind Stadium. Freshman pinch hitter Maddie Taylor added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth by hitting a solo home run to right field for her first PSU hit.  

Sunday’s first game was more of the same, as the Vikings took advantage of two Grizzly errors in the top of the first, leading to a quick 5–0 lead that PSU would never relinquish. Senior Tori Rogers pitched five innings and allowed two runs, one of them earned, while four Viking hitters knocked in a run apiece. 

Northern Colorado had their best chance to salvage their weekend in the fourth and final game of the series, answering PSU run-for-run in a 2–2 tie that went into the top of the seventh inning. 

Freshman centerfielder Danielle Lynn, however, singled to lead off the seventh and after Skinner advanced her to second, Echo-Hawk elected to have freshman infielder Alexa Morales pinch hit for Sadie Lopez. On a 2–1 pitch, Morales hit a screaming liner to center field for a triple, plating the go ahead run, giving the Vikings a 3–2 lead.

A double by freshman Carly McEachran and an error pushed the lead to 5–2. Nichole Latham entered in the bottom of the seventh to collect her second save in as many games, preserving the 4–0 sweep. 

The Viking offense, which had quelled in clutch situations during the preseason, is coming around at just the right time according to Echo-Hawk. 

“We struggled in that category in the preseason, and they’re starting to get runs, manufacture them and make the game fun. They’re allowing me to call different things: steals, hit and runs— whatever in order to help in the process. We had some this weekend on offense,” she said. 

With the confidence that a four-game sweep instills, PSU heads to Utah Valley next weekend to take on what Echo-Hawk believes may be their biggest challenger for the conference crown.

“They’re a pretty tough team—I think if you were to ask me right now who our biggest competition would be, it’d be Utah Valley. We just have to stay on top of it both offensively, defensively and really fight the whole team because it’s hard to beat any team four times,” Echo-Hawk said. 

Weekend results
Portland State 1, Northern Colorado 0
Portland State 4, Northern Colorado 0
Portland State 5, Northern Colorado 2
Portland State 5, Northern Colorado 2

PCSC Mountain Division Standings

School         PCSC    Overall    STK
Portland St.    4-0     14-21         W4
Utah Valley     3-1     15-16         W2
Idaho State     2-2      8-23          W2
Seattle             2-2     6-24           L2
Weber State    1-3      1-31          L2
N. Colorado    0-4      8-27           L5