Young gun

On March 27, the Portland State softball team put a scare into No. 1-in-the-nation Washington, as the Huskies squeezed out a narrow 3–2 victory over the Vikings.

On March 27, the Portland State softball team put a scare into No. 1-in-the-nation Washington, as the Huskies squeezed out a narrow 3–2 victory over the Vikings.

Despite the loss, it was a moral victory for the Vikings to hang around with one of the nation’s toughest teams and in the middle of that victory was freshman pitching phenomenon Anna Bertrand.    Against a Huskies lineup that has cumulatively posted a team On-base Plus Slugging percentage of .928, along with featuring three hitters with seven or more home runs already in 2010, Bertrand held Washington to nine hits over seven innings while striking out eight and allowing only three runs, two of them earned. 

To quiet the Huskies lineup in such a way is an impressive feat for any pitcher, with Bertrand’s performance being one of only five times that Washington has been held to three runs or less this season. To do it as a freshman in only her 17th collegiate appearance and 12th PSU start speaks loudly of her meteoric rise to the top tier of Pacific Coast Softball Conference pitchers.  

To Bertrand, the Huskies were just another team, indistinguishable except for the colors on their jerseys.

“It doesn’t matter who they are and it doesn’t matter where they play. Everyone can strikeout and everyone can ground out,” Bertrand said. “Everyone’s just a player. They all have their weaknesses and you just have to find them.”

Bertrand arrived at Portland State owning an 87–16 record in a high school career that saw her strike out 1,194 batters in 724 innings at McMinnville High School. No stranger to pressure, Bertrand helped the Grizzlies to three straight Pacific League titles, including trips to the state playoffs in each of her four years. She was quickly acclimated to the pressure of collegiate softball, her first appearance occurring in a 2–0 save situation against Ohio in the first game of the season. 

Any debut jitters were conspicuously absent as Bertrand struck out the side, garnering Portland State its first save in over a year and, more importantly, the Vikings’ first win of the season. According to head coach Tobin Echo-Hawk, it is Bertrand’s cool demeanor under pressure that’s helped her succeed so quickly at Portland State.   

“Her ability to maintain her composure on the mound regardless of who she’s facing, whatever happens through the game—whether she gives up hits or walks—she’s the same pitcher no matter what. You wouldn’t know whether the game is going in her favor or not just because she’s so good at controlling things,” Echo-Hawk said.  

Bertrand’s control and confidence has helped to put her into the upper echelon of pitchers in the PCSC. Heading into league play this weekend, Bertrand finds herself at or near the top of nearly every statistical category in the PCSC. Most impressive is that in some of the categories, the lead isn’t even close. Bertrand leads the league in strikeouts with 103 in 85 1/3 innings, while her closest competition sits at 78 in 102 innings.

Striking out 8.45 batters per seven innings, Bertrand attributes much of her success to an array of pitches, which include a rise-ball, curve, screwball and an absolutely devastating changeup. With a near 20 mph difference between her fastest and slowest pitch, it’s nearly impossible for hitters to become comfortable at the plate against Bertrand. 

“My pitching coach always emphasized the changeup because it’s really important to keep the hitters off balance. The more you’re able to have an off-speed [pitch] the more successful you’re going to be, because the hitters start thinking,” she said.

Bertrand’s seamless transition from high school to college softball is in part due to the wealth of pitching experience already in the Vikings’ rotation. With mentors like junior Nichole Latham, last year’s PCSC Pitcher of the Year, and senior Tori Rogers, whose first Viking appearance was a no-hitter, Bertrand has had a wealth of pitching knowledge to ease the transition into college ball. 

“I give a lot of credit to Tori and Nichole to mentor her through the whole process of what it’s like to be a pitcher, and having your ups and having your downs and dealing with different pressure situations,” Echo-Hawk said.

Coming into Portland State, Bertrand herself didn’t expect that she would have such success so quickly. 

“I definitely wasn’t expecting it. It’s just kind of how things went this year. Things can go any which way and luckily they’ve gone a good way for me so far,” Bertrand said. 

Her coach, however, isn’t surprised. 

“She’s one of the best I’ve ever seen and have had the opportunity to coach,” said Echo-Hawk. “She’s consistent and she’s going to keep getting better because she sets high expectations for herself and works hard. It’s going to be exciting to see what she does in the future.”