While the bulk of Portland State students spent their spring breaks at home or on vacation, the softball team stuck around and began their home field schedule.
After a rigorous 22 games on the road to start their year, going 3–19 during that stretch, the Lady Viks were scheduled to host Big Sky rivals Idaho State and North Dakota at Erv Lind Stadium. The home field for PSU softball lies five miles from campus in Northeast Portland’s Normandale Park.
Reflecting on the early struggles of her team, head coach Barb Sherwood, in her first year at the helm of PSU softball, points at this team improving through experience.
“We’ve had a tough go at it,” Sherwood said. “Our pitching is young and inexperienced. But we’re getting better as we go. They were thrown into the fire early.”
Playing the first half of their season on neutral or opponent’s fields takes its toll on both the coaching staff and players.
“Being on the road every weekend is tough. Not sleeping in your own beds,” Sherwood said.
But on March 22 Big Sky rival Idaho State came to town for a three-game series. Last year these two teams tied for the regular season championship before PSU won the conference tournament. The Bengals are considered not only some of the Vikings’ toughest competition, but one of their chief rivals. They are also one of the seven Big Sky schools which have a softball team. Among the five institutions which have yet to create a softball team, the Montana Grizzlies have begun to lay the foundation, hiring a head coach last summer.
PSU and Idaho State split their doubleheader with a 1–2 loss before an impressive 10–2 win. Both games featured effective pitching from PSU. Sophomores Karyn Wright and Melissa Masters threw for a combined 13 innings and 2.1 ERA on four total runs given up.
Coach Sherwood is a former pitching coach and considers the work done on the rubber some of the most crucial. “It’s called fast pitch for a reason. Pitching is a huge part of our game, it can make or break us.”
Junior Brittany Hendrickson, the Vikings’ go-to offensive player (a lefty) who led the team in triple-crown categories last year (batting average, home runs and RBIs), hit her second career grand slam in walk-off style to end the second matchup in the sixth inning. She went 4–5 that day with two runs and five RBIs. In the final matchup against Idaho State, Hendrickson continued her tear with a solo home run, double, sacrifice fly and three RBIs, but her offense alone wasn’t enough. The Bengals methodically worked PSU’s pitching staff, coming back to win 7–4.
Another three-game series (against North Dakota) was set for late in the week, and was pushed back multiple times because of rain. North Dakota came to town with a 1–18 record and the worst ERA in the Big Sky, 10.53. Two games were held at Hood View Park in Happy Valley, Ore. and the third canceled. Both games played were closely contested, but North Dakota came out with a pair of wins, leapfrogging PSU in the conference standings.
In the first game of the doubleheader, North Dakota was up early before PSU had a six-run third inning, to go up 7–6. North Dakota responded with a six-run fourth inning, which all but sealed the final score 8–12. In the second matchup, the script was looking the same. North Dakota was up 7–2 entering the seventh and final inning. PSU scored seven runs, taking the lead, but North Dakota came back with four of their own.
Masters was effective with the bat in hand during the pair of games, going 5–7 with four runs scored. Senior Becca Bliss also had a strong outing, hitting 5–9 and a team high for RBI. Overall, the team batted .394 on 26 hits.
After this three-game losing streak, the Lady Viks sit at 4–23 overall, 1–4 in conference. The team will travel to Cedar City, Utah, next week for a series against Southern Utah.
For Coach Sherwood, the losses have been learning experiences and the team is looking forward, not backward. “They work hard, great kids, resilient. We’ve taken lumps and bruises but we’re playing the best ball when we need to, and I think we have a good chance of winning our conference.”