Three keys to Viking victory

After taking two of three games from Sacramento State last weekend, the Portland State softball team is gearing up for another must-win weekend in Pacific Coast Softball Conference competition.

After taking two of three games from Sacramento State last weekend, the Portland State softball team is gearing up for another must-win weekend in Pacific Coast Softball Conference competition. On the docket this weekend is a four-game series versus St. Mary’s, where the Vikings will continue their pursuit of a second consecutive conference championship.

The Gaels (17-27, 2-2 PCSC) will host the Vikings for a set of doubleheaders scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. The Vikings swept the Gaels in their meeting last season, so St. Mary’s may be hungry for some redemption.

Let’s take a look at what head coach Amy Hayes identified as the keys to Viking victories in this weekend’s four-game matchup.

Keep the middle of the order contained

The middle of the lineup is undoubtedly where St. Mary’s power rests. Hitters three through nine–Lauren Mello, Megan Galloway and Sandra Ruezga, respectively–comprise this powerful portion of the order.

Mello, a senior outfielder, is fresh off a PCSC Player of the Week-winning performance against Santa Clara last weekend. On the Gaels’ opening weekend of conference play, Mello hit .643, slugging four doubles and knocking two balls over the fence for home runs.

Galloway joined the home run belting party, hitting her sixth of the season. The junior outfielder and right-handed pitcher, who also has a .516 slugging percentage and 24 RBIs on the season, tied Mello for the team lead for jacks with the weekend’s big fly.

First baseman Ruezga was also impressive this past weekend, leading the team with a .667 batting average and .692 on-base percentage. The junior added a few blasts over the outfield wall to put a cap on her remarkable performance against Santa Clara.

The Vikings better be prepared to pitch this group of powerful hitters very carefully, making sure not to hang a pitch over the plate or give these girls a fastball they can lock in on and give a long ride out of the park.

Keep the number-two hitter off the bases

Coach Hayes’ main concern is with St. Mary’s second hitter in the order, the speedy Bronwyn Russell. The junior utility player possesses very little pop in her bat and an abundance of top-flight speed in her step. In 43 games this season, Russell has nine stolen bases on 12 attempts, giving her a decent 75 percent conversion rate. But, with four players on the Gaels with nine or more stolen bases this season, Russell is the most dangerous, simply because she is risky on the base pads. She leads the team in attempts, proving she is certainly not a timid base runner.

Russell’s reckless abandonment on the bases will primarily affect Viking pitching, which is exactly why Hayes would rather she never gets on base. If the utility player, who has a .345 on-base percentage, finds herself standing next to first base, Portland State pitchers Mandy Hill, PCSC Pitcher of the Week winner, and Janice Damo will surely know it. Russell will attract their attention, most likely causing the pitchers to lose their concentration, and increasing the chance of delivering an erred pitch that could prove devastating.

A strong defense behind the pitching

As a team, the Vikings have maintained a respectable fielding percentage of .968 thus far this season. However, mental miscues have begun to creep under Hayes’ skin. On the season, Portland State has committed 39 errors to only six double plays. Four players are responsible for five or more errors: junior left fielder Stephanie Bean has eight, Katie Stokes has eight, sophomore shortstop Jamee Rauch has committed six, and fellow sophomore second baseman Jackie Heide has piled up five.

Hayes’ main emphasis is reducing the number of avoidable mental mistakes so the Vikings can focus their attention on putting crucial runs on the board and striking out dangerous hitters at the plate.Against: the Saint Mary’s GaelsWhere: Cottrell Field, Moraga, Calif.When: Saturday, April 14, 12 p.m. and 2 p.m., and Sunday, April 15, 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.Radio: Tune in online at goviks.comWhat to watch: Mandy Hill continues her dominating pitching performance as the PCSC Pitcher of the Week will take the lion’s share of the work against the Gaels. Hill has a 2.25 ERA and is 15-14 on the season. As a hitter she is leading the team with 30 RBIs and nine home runs with a .267 average.