This season the Portland State softball team is primed to begin a new chapter with new head coach Amy Hayes, after 29 straight years with Teri Mariani at the helm. Although the legendary Mariani has retired, the program is certainly in good hands with Hayes.
Hayes has been involved with some of the finest Division I softball programs in the nation, with experience as the head coach at Boston University where she compiled a .561 winning percentage and three first place conference finishes over four seasons. She has also held assistant coaching positions at Virginia Tech, Bradley, Evansville and Oregon.
“I am very excited to be here at Portland State,” Hayes said. “Coach Mariani was here for 29 years and did a great job building this program and for women’s sports here in the Northwest. I am happy to be here and build on the foundation that coach Mariani set.”
Finishing third in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference standings last season with a conference mark of 11-8 the Viks look to improve this season and possibly walk away with the conference championship.
“Our main goal is that we want to win the conference championship this year,” said Hayes. “They have been very close the past couple of years, finishing second and third in the conference.”
A mix of established players and rising stars define this season’s version of the Portland State softball team. Returning four position starters, including a member of the All-PSCS second team in sophomore outfielder Laura Stegall and a member of the All-PSCS honorable mention team in junior outfielder Kimi Daniel, the Viks have an extremely talented foundation but will certainly have some positions to fill with the younger players.
“I think that with our talent we deserve to be number one,” said sophomore right-handed pitcher Mandy Hill. ” We are sound all the way around, defensively, with our pitching staff and hitting. It is all there and it will come together.”
The Vikings also have great depth at pitching with three pitchers returning from last year’s squad. Senior right-handed pitcher and staff ace Michelle Hext will lead the pitching staff once again after having 15 complete games and an ERA of 1.49 last season en route to earning second team All-PSCS honors.
The future also looks bright for right-handed pitcher and utility player Mandy Hill. Hill was a member of the first team All-PSCS team last year as just a freshman after compiling a 5-5 record on the mound and hitting four home runs at the plate.
Also returning this season is junior right-handed pitcher Michelle Hess, who recorded six starts last season and made 11 outings. The lone newcomer to the staff is, (former all-state performer at Clackamas High School), freshman right-handed pitcher Jessi Even. Even set her school’s strikeout record during her senior season with 318 strikeouts.
“We have depth in pitching,” Hayes said. “It is just a matter of defining that depth and making sure that everyone knows their role and everyone is coming through when they need to come through.”
So far this season the Vikings have been extremely inconsistent at their first two weekend competitions. In their first weekend at the Las Cruces Invitational the Vikings went 0-5 playing against the likes of Ohio State and Colorado State. During the Las Cruces Invitational the Viks showed signs of a team that was adjusting to a new coach and searching to find their identity on the field.
“Our first weekend was a little disappointing,” Hayes said. “We didn’t play very well in our first couple of games. But it was our first time out and really only our third day out on real dirt. We have been out on the turf for most of the winter. Mistakes are going to happen but we came back strong in the last three games.”
In a stunning turnaround the Vikings played much better last weekend in the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic and returned home with five wins.
“We came back and couldn’t say anything for ourselves,” said Kimi Daniel. “We knew that we could play defense and hit so we just went out and showed it. Our offense was really good this weekend, everyone was hitting. What we didn’t do last weekend we did this weekend and it was really exciting.”
The Vikings played much better overall in their second weekend of play. They hit for a better average as a team and had several solid pitching performances by Mandy Hill, who started each of the weekend’s games on the mound.
“The first weekend we all had jitters, we were all really nervous,” Hill said. “This weekend we just came out and we didn’t like losing so we came out and made a difference and started winning. It was the same people, just more determination.”
A couple of Viks earned Pacific Coast Softball Conference honors as the players of the week after last weekend’s tournament. Kimi Daniel earned honors for player of the week with some very impressive play over the weekend. She had one triple and home run to accumulate a slugging percentage of .933, drew four walks and hit for an average of .467, giving her a .579 on-base percentage in five games.
“I just tried to stay calm, run up to the plate and see the ball really big to see what was coming,” Daniel said.
While Mandy Hill won pitcher of the week for her performance in the Viking’s five games last weekend. She started all five of the games and went 4-0 with an ERA of 1.47. Hill also played very well at the plate hitting a grand slam against Illinois. She hit for an average of .313 and drove in 12 runs for the weekend.
The main competition for the Vikings this year in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference looks to be last year’s first and second place teams Loyola Marymount and Sacramento State.
“Loyola has proven the last few years that they are putting it all together down there and they usually come through with good pitching and usually back that up with solid hitting,” Hayes said.
With their established pitching staff, improved hitting and defense the Vikings look like a team that is ready to begin another chapter by being in contention for the conference title at the end of the season. However, the Viks must show up and hit and pitch like they did in the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic and not nervous like they did at the Las Cruces Invitational the first weekend of the season.
The Viks will look to improve upon their 5-5 record when they return to Las Vegas to play Virginia Tech, Arizona State and Team China, among others in the UNLV Invitational, March 3-5.