Softball’s postseason comes to an end

SEATTLE—Portland State went hit-for-hit with two nationally ranked teams in the first round of the NCAA softball tournament, but the underdog Vikings were unable to prevail and instead had their postseason come to an end last week.

SEATTLE—Portland State went hit-for-hit with two nationally ranked teams in the first round of the NCAA softball tournament, but the underdog Vikings were unable to prevail and instead had their postseason come to an end last week.

 The Vikings were eliminated from the tournament after losing to the No. 14 Washington Huskies and No. 21/23 Auburn Tigers at the University of Washington-hosted Seattle Regional. PSU lost to the Huskies 6-2 on Thursday before dropping Friday’s game to the Tigers, 2-1.

 ”Right in this moment I feel disappointed, because I think that we are good enough to continue on,” third-year coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said after Friday’s loss to Auburn. “But I’m really pleased with the team and how they’ve played all year—and how they’ve persevered.”

 Portland State, which earned automatic entry into the national tournament after winning the Pacific Coast Softball Conference title two weeks ago, ends one of its most successful seasons at the Division-I level with a 34-18 overall record.

 But success was never a given. The Vikings began the conference schedule with three losses in four game and a 13-15 overall record, and Echo-Hawk commented on how hard her team fought back to make the program’s third trip to the NCAA tournament at the D-I level.

 ”I think it shows a lot about what kind of character our kids have and how strong they are; not only individually, but more so as a team,” she said.

 The Vikings immediately faced an up-hill battle in the four-team double-elimination Seattle Regional. Thursday’s match-up pitted Portland State against Pac-10 powerhouse Washington before a home crowd of 1,035 at Husky Softball Stadium.

 The Vikings matched the Huskies (37-14) at the plate with six hits, but errors and misplays proved costly for the girls in green. Washington—the 2009 national champion and 12th seed in this year’s tournament—got on the board early after putting the Viking defense to the test.

 Washington senior infielder Morgan Stuart led off her team’s half of the second inning with a hard-hit triple off the wall in right-center field and came around to score off a wild pitch from sophomore Anna Bertrand during the next at-bat.

 The Huskies increased their lead with a two-run homer to left from junior infielder Niki Williams in the third inning. Another wild pitch in the fourth allowed another run to cross the plate and two more runs in the fifth put the Huskies up by six.

 ”There were some things we did that allowed them to take advantage of situations when they had runners in scoring position—and that’s not typical of us,” Echo-Hawk said. “We are pretty much known for our defense, and our defense faltered a little bit.”

Though the Vikings stayed even with the Huskies in hits, PSU stranded seven runners and was not able to bring anyone home until the top of the seventh when senior shortstop Arielle Wiser hit a two-RBI double that rolled deep into the gap at right-center.

 ”On the offensive side, I was pretty happy with how our kids hit,” Echo-Hawk said, “They went up there and swung the bat. We had runners on, we just didn’t have that timely hit until the end with ‘Rel (Wiser) and her double.”

 Wiser earned one hit in four at-bats on Thursday and finished the weekend going 2-for-7. From the pitching circle, Bertrand took the loss to end her season with a 16-9 record. In six innings of work she struck out two and walked four.

 Sophomore second baseman Carly McEachran, who hit 2-for-3 with one walk and extender her career hitting streak to eight games, remarked on the level of excitement there was during the game. 

 ”I feel like my job is to kind of be the energy and motivator on the team,” she said. “So I was trying to push through—through thick and thin—and play that role.”

The loss to the Huskies put the breaks on PSU’s 11-game winning streak and set up a Friday meeting with the Auburn Tigers (40-19). Played under cloudy skies, Friday’s game was an elimination match for each team since the Tigers had lost 2-1 to BYU in the opening game of the regional.

 As the designated home team, the Vikings took the field first and Auburn immediately began a game of small-ball.

 Freshman Morgan Estell worked a leadoff walk from PSU senior pitcher Nichole Latham and advanced to second on a sac-bunt before getting driven home off a double from sophomore Kelsey Cartwright.

 The Vikings tried to answer back with a single from sophomore outfielder Danielle Lynn in the second inning and a triple from junior outfielder Jenna Krogh, but both ended up stranded at base. In the bottom of the fourth, Portland State tied the game at 1-all off an RBI single from freshman third baseman Crysta Conn that brought home pinch runner Meghan Lyons. Auburn’s Lauren Schmalz then came into the game in relief and proceeded to hold the Vikings hitless over the remaining 2.1 innings.

 PSU freshman Becca Bliss made an amazing defensive play that shut down a Tigers’ attempt at a sac-fly in the fifth. After fielding a standard pop-up deep in right field Bliss made the throw to third with plenty of time to catch Estell trying to advance.

Despite the showing by Bliss, a one-run sixth inning gave the Tigers all the advantage they would need for the win.

In her final collegiate appearance, Latham gave up six hits with two strikeouts and two walks in a full seven innings. She ends the season with a 16-9 record on the season 52-39 on her career.

Krogh went 2-of-4 at the plate against the Tigers and finishes the season batting .398—a best in the Vikings’ Div-I era and fourth-best in school history. Conn went 1-of-3 with an RBI single.

Washington went on to win the Regional and now advances to the Super Regionals to face fifth-seeded Missouri in Columbia, Mo. In other regional play, 13th-seeded Oregon won the University Park Regional and will advance to face fourth-seeded Florida in the Gainesville Super Regional.

For Portland State seniors Latham, Wiser, Brandi Campos and Susan Winningham, Friday’s contest was their last as a Viking. During the last four years the team has made two NCAA appearances, won two PCSC championships and amassed a 121-98 record. After Friday’s loss Echo-Hawk was quick to praise the contributions the seniors have made in their time with the program.

“They came in and they left the program better than it was,” Echo-Hawk said. “They are a huge reason for our success over the last couple of years. It’s going to be hard to fill their shoes.” ?