Softball team faces tough NCAA tourney regional

If last weekend was important to the Viking softball team’s season, this weekend is absolutely crucial. Last weekend the Viks overcame the pressure to accomplish their primary goal for the season by winning the Pacific Coast Softball Conference and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The Viks will face the fire once again at the NCAA Regional Tournament in Corvallis this weekend, as they strive to make the program’s first tournament appearance a success.

In the regular season the Vikings compiled a 37-18 record and finished the season 15-5 in conference play, which is a dominant season by any standard. But, while this is easily the most impressive regular season ever for the Viks, it doesn’t mark the conclusion of this season. The determining factor is whether the players and coaches are content with solely winning the PCSC Championship or if they have intentions of extending their season even further.

“I think we feel good,” head coach Amy Hayes said. “I think it is that relief of getting over conference. It is a situation where these kids feel like they can just go out and play now a little bit more. Conference was our goal but we are not satisfied just to end up with that.”

If Portland State is primed and determined to advance past this weekend’s two-game elimination regional in Corvallis they must perform at their best because the regional contains some formidable opponents. The Viks have recent experience with the number one seed Oregon State and fourth seed Nevada, playing each team on multiple occasions this season. The Viks split their two-game series against Oregon State this season and defeated Nevada three times during the season.

Portland State is least familiar with their first opponent of the weekend, the Big 12 powerhouse Baylor. The two programs have only met on one occasion, dating back to 1999 when Baylor devastated the Viks 15-4 in five innings. So, while the other two squads should be somewhat predictable in their approach, Baylor will definitely provide the most surprises, seeing how it has been nearly seven years since the teams have faced each other.

Here are the strengths and weaknesses of the Vikings’ upcoming opponents, including some of the sluggers and flamethrowers the Viks will compete against in the regional tournament this weekend.

Oregon State: Obviously, this weekend’s host team earned the number one seed for a reason. The Beavers concluded the season ranked seventh in the nation with an overall record of 38-13. In order to be ranked within the top 10 of the nation the Beavers must employ a combination of good pitching, hitting and defensive play. Which is exactly what they have done this season.

As a team, Oregon State is hitting just a scratch under .300 with a team batting average of .291. The Beavers have also combined for 52 home runs on the season, proving that they can power-ball out of the park with consistency and still maintain a decent team batting average. Sophomore utility player Cambria Miranda is the Beavers’ biggest threat at the plate, proving to be a perfect representation of her team’s balanced attack with a .314 batting average, a team-leading 30 RBIs and an outstanding 14 home runs. Portland State pitchers Michelle Hext and Mandy Hill will certainly make it a priority to sit her down as quickly as possible.

On the mound the Beavers are also extremely exceptional. Their team ERA is a strikingly low 2.07 for the season, but the majority of their success on the mound can be credited to one talented player. Junior right-handed pitcher Brianne McGowan is the team’s workhorse on the hill, compiling a 24-6 record in 38 appearances and a total 31 starts on the season. McGowan has been a starter so often for a reason, accumulating a remarkable 1.33 ERA in her 38 appearances.

Baylor: The Bears squeaked out of a tough Big 12 Conference with a 36-20 record and ranked 19th in the nation. A lot of their success derives from their star at the plate. Junior catcher Chelsi Lake has been a monster at the plate this season, hitting a team-best .368, slugging 16 home runs and amassing an incredible 48 RBIs. She is definitely a huge dot on the Vikings’ radar and they must contain her to be successful.

“I think we match up pretty well with Baylor,” Hayes said. “They have good power, they have speed and basically everything you want to see in your hitters. As long as we can contain them and keep them in the park we should have a good shot. Chelsi Lake is definitely leading them in their offensive categories but they are pretty strong throughout the lineup.”

The ace of the Bears’ pitching staff is junior right-handed pitcher Lisa Ferguson, who is 18-13 with a 1.86 ERA in 39 appearances this season. As a whole, the Bears’ pitching staff possesses a 2.43 ERA this season.

Nevada: If there is one opponent that the Viks can feel most confident about beating, it is the Wolf Pack. In all three of their matchups this season the Vikings defeated Nevada, however, none of the games were blowouts, and remained relatively close.

“We have played them three times this year and beat them,” Hayes said. “But I think it is always tough to beat a team four times, but on the other hand you always feel pretty confident going in because it is a team you have seen three times.”

Nevada finished the season with a 32-31 record, advancing to the tournament by winning the Western Athletic Conference Tournament and receiving the automatic bid. The workhorse of the Wolf Pack’s pitching staff is sophomore Jordan McPherson, who is 21-20 with a 2.66 ERA in 49 appearances this season. However, the team ERA is considerably higher than the other opponents at 3.99, possibly illustrating a major weakness for the Wolf Pack.

At the plate Nevada is led by freshman third basemen Sara Hunt, who has a .329 batting average, while the team has a combined .264 batting average for the season. Senior shortstop Brittany Lorenzen and utility player Candice Rainwater have been providing the power for the Wolf Pack this season with eight home runs each.

The Vikings begin their pursuit on Friday at 1 p.m. against the unfamiliar Baylor Bears at the Oregon State Softball Conference. NCAA Regional Tournaments are two-game elimination, so it is unknown which team Portland State will play in their next game on Saturday because it will depend on which squad wins Friday’s game between Oregon State and Nevada. Regardless, the Vikings are ready to continue the dominance that they have enjoyed this season.