Portland State knocks Sacramento around

The Portland State softball team faced the Pacific Coast Softball Conference (PCSC) competition for the first time since claiming the conference crown last weekend, defending their title by trumping Sacramento State in two of three games on Friday and Saturday.

The Portland State softball team faced the Pacific Coast Softball Conference (PCSC) competition for the first time since claiming the conference crown last weekend, defending their title by trumping Sacramento State in two of three games on Friday and Saturday.

Coming into this match-up of PCSC heavyweights, it appeared the Hornets had Portland State’s number. Not only did Sacramento State sting the Vikings with a four-game sweep late last season, threatening the Vikings’ chances at winning the conference title, but the arch nemesis was also selected by the conference’s coaches as the frontrunner to win the conference championship this season.

The Vikings (16-20, 2-1 PCSC) must have used these recent shortcomings as motivation in their first battle of the series. In game one, the Vikings appeared poised both at the plate and on the hill, as junior right-handed pitcher Mandy Hill stifled Sacramento State’s normally formidable offensive attack. The star pitcher bewildered Hornet batters, pitching all seven innings to a five-hit shutout with four strikeouts and no walks.

“Mandy, so far this year, has really put the load on her shoulders and carried us,” said head coach Amy Hayes. “She is doing a great job. She was mixing her pitches well, keeping the ball down, keeping them off balance with the change-of-speed pitches, and she’s got to do that. She’s got to be able to come out every time and look like a different pitcher.”

At the dish, the Vikings ignited their assault early with a one-out single off the bat of sophomore first baseman Jana Rae Slayton to score sophomore second baseman Jackie Heide in the second inning. Portland State continued to play solid, fundamental softball, relying on timely running on the base pads and a sacrifice bunt to score two insurance runs in the fifth inning, giving the Viks a 3-0 victory.

While Hill effectively cooled the Hornets bats in game one, freshman right-hander Janice Damo failed to enjoy the same luck. After the Viking bats provided Damo some comfort with two runs in the first inning, the freshman illustrated her inexperience by surrendering five runs over the next two innings. Damo was pulled in favor of Hill after three innings of work, allowing five runs on seven hits and ballooning her ERA to 4.88.

“So far the system has been a little slow for her, and she is only getting around to learning it now,” Hayes said of Damo’s performance. “She was focusing a lot on her academics (at the beginning of the year), which is the most important part for these kids. You know it’s why they are here. So we felt that it was important for her to concentrate on that aspect of her life. But the kid is a phenomenal athlete and has been doing good for where she is at right now.”

Sacramento State right-handed sophomore Kayla Meeks was impressive on the mound, striking out six and holding the Vikings to only three runs over seven innings to the tune of a 3-5 win. Although Meeks shut down the Viking offense, she had trouble retiring freshman Brandi Scoggins in the nightcap of the twin bill, as the catcher hit safely in three of four plate appearances and scored a run.

Rain flurries compressed another doubleheader on Saturday into one delayed seven-inning affair, with the make-up game, if necessary, scheduled for either May 11 or 12. Once showers finally subsided and the squads took the diamond, both teams looked washed up in the early stages of the game, with the first runs scored on a two-run sacrifice fly by freshman designated player Ali Klemenok in the fifth inning. In the aggressive coaching move Hayes sent two of her on-base players all the way around to score off of the sac fly.

“We had runners at second and third, and they both tagged up on it and the short stop was sleeping a little bit. So I decided to send my kid from second all the way around as well as the one on third. It’s very rare, you don’t see it that often. I just felt like we needed to take advantage of the situation to get some runs in,” Hayes said.

Hill resumed her place on the mound and earned her second victory of the series, 3-1, allowing just one run on seven hits, no free passes and three strikeouts in seven innings. Coming into the weekend, Hayes felt the youngster Damo would help to take some of the pressure off Hill by eating up some innings and giving the superstar right-hander a rest. But, Hayes’ plan wasn’t executed perfectly as Hill pitched 18 of 21 innings during the series, swelling her total to 196 innings pitched on the season.

“She is just a workhorse,” said coach Hayes. “Mandy’s got a really tough mental side to her, and she’d rather have the ball than be on the sidelines. And that’s huge. That’s exactly what you’d want in your pitcher.”

The Vikings hit the diamond again today against Oregon State, returning to the site of their NCAA Regional appearance last season at the OSU Softball Complex in Corvallis. In their next PCSC series, Portland State will travel to Saint Mary’s (Calif.) for a four-game affair on Friday and Saturday.