Softball on the rise

First year head coach Amy Hayes has the Viking softball team in prime position entering conference play this weekend. The Vikings are soaring into their conference schedule after compiling a 19-11 record this season against some grueling non-conference foes, including Big 10 powerhouses Purdue and Ohio State and Pac 10 forces Oregon State and Arizona State. Portland State may be enjoying an impressive season so far. However, this upcoming stretch against conference teams will truly determine this season’s success

Before the first crack of a bat or snap of a glove this season Hayes had a difficult assignment – replacing a legend in the dugout. Teri Mariani coached the Portland State softball team for 29 years before retiring after last season. Hayes would be the first new coach at the helm in nearly 30 years, a position that usually includes lofty expectations and a demand for instant success.

So far, Hayes has exceeded the hype by pushing her players to perform at their best every game, which has been achieved even after a rocky opening weekend. Much of their success against formidable opponents this season can be attributed to Hayes’ emphasis on details and hard work during the week, not necessarily their performance during the weekend.

“I don’t think that I am ever content with anything, which I am sure my girls would agree,” Hayes said about her team’s performance. “I just think there is always room to improve. These girls have very high goals and the only way they are going to see them through is getting pushed every day. They know that, they may not like that but we’re never going to be content with anything.”

Hayes and the Vikings illustrated their tough-to-please attitude and attention to detail as they dominated the competition at the Nevada Softball Tournament, returning home with a 6-0 record last weekend.

“Going into the tournament it is a situation where you feel like you have the advantage on someone and it was important for us to go out there and do our job,” Hayes said. “It was a tournament that we could have come back 6-0 on and we did.”

At the Nevada Softball Tournament the Viks were at the top of their game in all facets. Their offense was running on all cylinders with a successful blend of power, hitting for average and timely hitting. Michelle Hext and Mandy Hill supplied superior pitching, which dictated the tempo of each matchup, just as flawless defense behind them secured the victory. This lethal combination of offense, pitching and defense allowed Portland State to blow away the competition with a confident ease.

“I just felt with the way we were hitting the ball we were going to be successful,” Hayes said. “Mandy threw really well this weekend. Michelle threw outstanding this weekend, which I think is important for her because I think that is the way Michelle is used to throwing. I think she found her stride this weekend.”

A major reason the Vikings were victorious last weekend was the outstanding performance of freshman right fielder Jackie Heide. Heide provided a powerful and consistent brand of offense throughout the tournament with a .556 batting average, five home runs and 15 RBI in just six games. These extraordinary statistics eventually led to six Viking victories and a most valuable player award for Heide.

“I was just swinging the bat and everything was coming together,” Heide said. “I just saw the ball well this weekend. It was a good weekend for me I guess.”

Another player that had a significant contribution during the tournament was senior shortstop Lacey Gorman. She left Nevada with All-Tournament honors and her play showed she left everything on the field by smacking two home runs and providing defensive consistency at maybe the most difficult position on the field.

“I am coming around with my hitting. I’m just trying to slow things down up there and trying to get big hits,” Gorman said. “I hit in the two spot, so I know if our leadoff hitter doesn’t get on I need to get on. I am just feeling more comfortable. We knew these games weren’t going to be easy but we went into the weekend expecting to be 6-0, so it was a good weekend.”

Many of the Viking players are beginning to realize that the hard work and constant push coach Hayes gives them throughout the week in practice is beginning to pay great dividends.

“We worked our butts off in the off season, we always work so hard and now it is beginning to pay off,” Heide said.

Hayes’ exhausting practice routine is not only making the Viks better at physically performing on the field, she is also sufficiently passing down her knowledge of the game in a mental sense.

“Coach Hayes is very good at teaching the whole mental part of the game,” Gorman said. “She is also very good at getting us to think about how we want to do things and making sure we do it the right way.”

The Vikings will get a chance to display their talent when they begin conference play against St. Mary’s at Erv Lind Stadium on Saturday. They have doubleheaders on both Saturday and Sunday this weekend. The first game begins at 12 p.m. and the second is scheduled for 2 p.m. The Vikings look to improve on their 3-1 in four games against St. Mary’s last season, maybe even walking away from the series perfect.

“I think it is important that we win four,” Hayes said. “We have been talking about making a statement all year long with what we do, no matter who we play and we will do that this weekend.”