The Portland State softball team capped off its tremendous run this season by rolling through the competition at the inaugural Big Sky tournament over the weekend, sweeping all three games to capture the conference championship and earn an automatic bid for the NCAA regional tournament.
The Portland State softball team capped off its tremendous run this season by rolling through the competition at the inaugural Big Sky tournament over the weekend, sweeping all three games to capture the conference championship and earn an automatic bid for the NCAA regional tournament. It was the team’s objective from the start of preseason play to return to the NCAA tournament, and after a season of ups and downs the Vikings did just that.
“I am so proud of the girls,” head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk said. “They did a great job of keeping an even head, especially early in the season. They had their goal, and they were going to do anything they could to get back to where we were last year.”
In Game 1, PSU took down the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds as Anna Bertrand dominated in the circle in a two-hit shutout performance. The Vikings offense backed her up, getting on the board in the first inning with a home run by Brittany Hendrickson that put them up 2-0. The team got another run in the fourth inning and two more in the fifth before sophomore right fielder Aubrey Nitschelm capped off the effort with a three-run blast to complete the 8-0 victory.
PSU kept that momentum going in Game 2 against the Idaho State University Bengals. The Big Sky regular-season co-champions gave the Vikings a run for their money, taking a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning, but PSU was ready for the challenge.
After senior designated player Alexa Morales got on base safely, Sadie Lopez came up two batters later and launched a home run to left field to give the Vikings a 4-3 advantage. Junior center fielder Becca Bliss followed her with a single that drove in second baseman Carly McEachran, and the 5-3 lead was all Bertrand needed to close out the game in the bottom in the seventh.
“In Game 2, we kept the intensity up even though we were down at one point,” Nitschelm said. “Even in that last inning, we were trying to talk and communicate, and then it was nice to have Sadie hit that home run. It was such an amazing experience.”
The Vikings faced off against Southern Utah once more in the final. Portland took advantage of its opportunities, with a run in the third inning on an RBI double by Becca Bliss, then scored three more in the fifth. But in keeping with a common theme all season, it was Bertrand who took control of the action to get the win for PSU, giving up just four hits to end the tournament just as she began it—with a shutout. Her efforts earned her tournament MVP honors to go along with her selection to the Big Sky All-Tournament team.
Alongside Bertrand, five other Vikings were named to the All-Tournament team—Nitschelm, Lopez, Becca Bliss, senior third baseman Crysta Conn and freshman catcher Lauran Bliss.
“Our goal, obviously, is to go to Super Regionals, and winning our first tournament game last year set the process in motion,” Echo-Hawk said. “We are at that point where we are playing well together. You always want your team to gel and do so at the right moment.”
Details of the upcoming NCAA regional schedule can be found by visiting goviks.com.