Softball plays under the Tucson sun

Portland State softball is taking a break from the rain-soaked Park Blocks to spend the weekend under the sun at the 15-game Wildcat Invitational in Tucson, Ariz.

Portland State softball is taking a break from the rain-soaked Park Blocks to spend the weekend under the sun at the 15-game Wildcat Invitational in Tucson, Ariz.

The Vikings (8-5) are set to play five games at the three-day event, and will be looking to keep their hot streak going in the Arizona heat.

Play begins tonight when the Viks take the field against tournament host Arizona. PSU then plays Idaho State (2-6) later in the evening before returning to the field Saturday to face Minnesota (7-7) and UC Riverside (3-10). A Sunday-morning meeting with Utah State (3-7) closes out the event for the Vikings.

The Wildcats (14-2) are fourth in the nation in the most recent USA Today rankings, and tonight’s meeting marks the sixth time this season that the Vikings face a nationally ranked opponent. The last time the Vikings and Wildcats faced each other was in 1979, when PSU claimed a 1-0 victory.

Portland State enters the weekend on a three-game winning streak, and is off to the best start to a season in 13 years. The Vikings hold the top record in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference, and the last time they won eight of their first 13 games was in 1998. Four of PSU’s five losses have come against teams ranked in the top 20.

Spearheading the Vikings’ success this season is the strength coming out of the pitching circle.

Led by senior Nichole Latham, Portland State has swept all three of the PCSC’s weekly pitching honors. On Monday, Latham was named the Mountain Division Pitcher of the Week for the second consecutive time and the seventh time in her career. Sophomore Anna Bertrand opened the season by taking the Feb. 15 pitching honor.

Latham leads the Vikings with a 1.87 ERA over 45 innings pitched, with 22 strikeouts. Bertrand, last year’s Pitcher of the Year, holds a 3.50 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 44 innings.

Against Arizona, the Viking batters may have to face the heat of Arizona’s pitching staff. Wildcats’ sophomore Kenzie Fowler currently leads the Pac-10 Conference in strikeouts (76), ERA (0.69) and wins (10).

Even if Fowler gets the start in tonight’s meeting with the Vikings, the PSU sluggers are well equipped at the plate.

In her first season at PSU since transferring from Colorado State, junior outfielder Jenna Krogh enters this weekend riding a 10-game hitting streak—the longest active streak in the PCSC. Krogh is batting .372 on 16 hits and has a team-leading three triples.

Junior catcher and designated player Lacey Holm leads PSU with 14 RBIs and a .467 batting average on 14 hits. In the PCSC stats, three

Vikings sit atop the charts with four multi-hit games each this season: Krogh, sophomore outfielder Danielle Lynn and senior shortstop Arielle Wiser.

PSU heads to the Wildcat Invitational after taking two wins in Sacramento, Calif., at last week’s PCSC Crossover Tournament, including a 3-0 shutout of the Saint Mary’s Gaels—the winners of last season’s PCSC Championship Series.

The Vikings began the season winning three of their six games at the Kajikawa Classic, including a 4-3 win over then-ranked No. 16 Brigham Young in eight innings. The following weekend, Portland State went on to win three of five games at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Nevada.

In the preseason poll released in January, the Vikings were the unanimous pick to win this season’s PCSC Mountain Division title. Last year, PSU won the division title after going 18-2 in league play and 30-27 overall, but lost to Saint Mary’s in the first-ever championship series.

The PCSC expanded from six to 12 teams last season and split into two divisions, with a best-of-three series deciding which team advances to the NCAA postseason.

Under third-year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk, the Vikings have won two titles and advanced to the NCAA Regional. Echo-Hawk was selected as last year’s Mountain Division Coach of the Year.

Despite beginning each of the last three seasons in the state of Arizona, this weekend will be PSU softball’s first trip to the city of Tucson. Since 2009, the Vikings have thrown the first pitch of the season at the Arizona State-hosted Kajikawa Classic in Tempe.

Portland State begins PCSC league play next month, when they are set to host Utah Valley in a double header on April 9 at Erv Lind Stadium.

Live stats and audio of this weekend’s games can be found at ?