Softball wins division title

After Portland State opened Pacific Coast Softball Conference play last month by dropping three of four games to visiting Utah Valley, the Vikings knew the road to a second-straight division title would be long and arduous.

After Portland State opened Pacific Coast Softball Conference play last month by dropping three of four games to visiting Utah Valley, the Vikings knew the road to a second-straight division title would be long and arduous.

But PSU—the preseason favorite to win the division—steamrolled through the remaining league schedule by taking 15 of the next 16 conference games to win the Mountain Division title and hosting rights to this weekend’s PCSC Championship Series.

Portland State secured the title over the weekend with a four-game sweep of visiting Weber State—a sweep in which the Vikings outscored the Wildcats 33-0 and invoked the mercy rule in three of the contests. Portland State ended conference play with a 16-4 record, while Weber State fell to 3-17.

“We wanted to make a statement after our start against Utah Valley,” said third-year head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk after her team secured the division on Saturday. “You know, a lot of people might have thought, ‘What’s wrong with them?’ But we just had a bad weekend. We knew what kind of team we were and we knew we were going to win it—it was just a matter of time.”

On Saturday, the Vikings defeated the Wildcats 8-0 in five innings and 8-0 in six before continuing their hot streak on Sunday with a 6-0 victory in the only game of the series to go the full seven innings. PSU closed out the regular season league slate with an 11-0 win in five innings.

In an all-important final weekend of PCSC play that decided the champions of both divisions, the Vikings entered the weekend with a one-game lead over Utah Valley. After the Wolverines dropped three of their four games to Idaho State, the Vikings needed just two wins to clinch the title.

In fitting form, Vikings earned their needed wins on Senior Day—a day when players and fans celebrated the careers of four departing seniors. Outfielder Brandi Campos, pitcher Nichole Latham, utility player Susan Winningham and shortstop Arielle Wiser were each lauded by the crowd of over 200 in their final regular-season home series.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better time to clinch it,” Echo-Hawk said. “Our seniors came out and they all played well and they all contributed and we clinched. It’s just nice to see because it’s a celebration of what they’ve done over the last four years.”

Latham, who has worked her way into the top 10 for no less than eight all-time school records over her career, described the feeling of winning her second-straight title in the simplest of terms: “It felt really good.”

“I thought I was going to be more emotional since it is Senior Day, but we still have more games left in the season,” Latham said.

Latham pitched a five-inning one-hitter in Game 1 on Saturday, and despite her lights-out performance, she remained modest after helping secure the division title.

“I struggled there a little bit in the third inning when I walked a person and didn’t field a ground ball, but I felt good,” Latham said. “There were a few pitches where my curveball gave me some trouble, but I worked through it.”

Latham would go on to pitch 5 2/3 innings of no-hit softball in Game 3 on Sunday before eventually giving up three late-inning singles. She finished the weekend with four hits over 12 innings, while walking three and striking out nine. Latham extended her season record to 16-8.

As the final scores imply, it wasn’t just the pitching that won the weekend for the Vikings. Portland State’s bats were out in full force at Erv Lind Stadium, as PSU went .404 at the plate as a team and out-hit the Wildcats, 42-10.

Wiser and sophomore infielder Carly McEachran led the Vikings’ offensive charge by each going 7-of-11 with a home run in the series. McEachran earned her three-run long-distance knock in the fourth inning of Game 4. Wiser chalked hers up in the next inning with a two-run inside-the-park homer when she put a shot into the gap in right-center that resulted in a collision between two Wildcat outfielders.

McEachran now leads the team with six home runs on the season. Overall, Portland State is hitting .314 on the season and a league-best .360 in conference games.

Sophomore pitcher Anna Bertrand won her eighth- and ninth-straight decisions of the season in Games 2 and 4 to improve her record to 14-8. Bertrand finished the weekend with four hits and eight strikeouts over nine innings.

On the season, Portland State pitchers are combined for a 2.15 ERA while holding opposing batters to a .217 batting average. In league games, they are throwing for a PCSC-best 1.70 ERA.

The series against Weber State marks the second time this season that the Vikings have won four-straight wins by shutout, and is the first time in school history that the Vikings did not allow a run in a four-game PCSC series.

Elsewhere in the league, Loyola Marymount (16-4 PCSC) claimed Coastal Division title with a series sweep of San Diego. The Lions will now face the Vikings in a PCSC Championship Series that pits the league’s two most successful programs against each other.

The Lions have won the conference crown three times (2003, 2005 and 2007) and the Vikings have won twice (2006 and 2009). However, neither school has won since the league split into two divisions. Last year, PSU lost to Saint Mary’s two-games-to-one in the inaugural championship series.

Looking ahead, Echo-Hawk said that her team is focused and looking forward to this weekend’s PCSC Series.

“We just want to keep rolling the way that we’re going and play a good game, because I know they all want to go to [the NCAA] Regionals and show what they can do on a national level,” she said.

Latham is equally optimistic.

“We just need to take this momentum into next weekend,” she said.

Portland State hosts Oregon State at 5 p.m. today in the Vikings’ final non-conference game of the season. The PCSC Championship Series is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Friday at Erv Lind Stadium in Portland’s Hollywood District. Game 2 is scheduled for noon on Saturday, and if a Game 3 is needed, it will begin about 30 minutes after the end of the second game. ?