by: COURTESY OF SCOTT LARSON - Crysta Conn was 8 of 16 at the plate for Portland State as the Vikings went 2-3 at last week's Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.Portland State's softball team got off to a good start offensively and went 2-3 in the season-opening Kajikawa Classic at Arizona State.

"We got better throughout the weekend," new Vikings coach Barb Sherwood says.

PSU beat Indiana 8-6 and New Mexico 10-0.

The Viks dropped their opener 6-2 to Colorado State, and finished the tourney with losses of 10-3 to Utah and 8-3 to No. 24 California.

The total of 26 runs was a plus for the Viks, who had 11 of them in the first three innings of the final three games.

"It was pretty fun, offensively," Sherwood says, "and we handled the ball well defensively.

"I truly believe we're going to have a good year, it's just going to be a matter of growth. And a lot of our players grew up right before our eyes."

That list includes freshman Shae Nelson, the 2013 Metro League player of the year from Southridge High. She "held down the fort" at second base, got some experience in the leadoff spot and hit .400 for the weekend.

"A pretty good opening weekend for a freshman," Sherwood says, "and she's going to continue to get better."

Nelson and key returnees such as senior third baseman Crysta Conn (.500, homer, four RBIs), junior first baseman Brittany Hendrickson (.375, seven RBIs), senior center fielder Becca Bliss (.308, four RBIs) and junior right fielder Aubrey Nitschelm (four RBIs) led the way at the plate.

"Our top of the order showed up," Sherwood says.

One big challenge this year for the Viks is replacing Anna Bertrand, who graduated after setting school records for career wins and innings pitched. The Vikings are going with freshman Meagan Hendrix and sophomore Karyn Wright. Hendrix won two games last weekend, but in 29 1/3 combined innings the duo gave up 28 earned runs (6.32 ERA), 37 hits and 20 walks, with 18 strikeouts.

"Pitching-wise, we need to get a little better, but they're developing their pitches and their confidence," Sherwood says. "They had a lot of bright moments you don't necessarily see on the charts. They got better and grew up, too. I'm going to be patient. They're good enough to get us some wins."

The Vikings suffered one significant injury. Sophomore starting catcher Lauran Bliss, a sophomore, broke both wrists colliding with the Indiana first baseman. Junior Kayla Norrie took her spot in the lineup.

Portland State heads to Las Vegas for another tournament this weekend. The Vikings will play Nevada, BYU, Hawaii, Seattle and Tennessee-Chattanooga in games Friday through Sunday.

In all, the Viks will be in five tourneys, with 25 games scheduled before their home opener (and Big Sky debut) at Erv Lind Stadium against Idaho State, the preseason pick to win the league.

"This is a great bunch," Sherwood says. "I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season."

 The Vikings' track and field team has qualified four men in five events and eight women in 16 events for the Big Sky indoor championships.

On the men's side, Sheldon Prince has earned a spot in the 200 and 400 meters.

For the women's squad, sprinter-hurdler Jazmin Ratcliff from Benson High and pentathlete CeCelia Jackson have made qualifying marks in three events each. Distance runners Sarah Dean and Camelia Mayfield and sprinters Whitney Diggs and Genna Settle also have secured berths in two events.

The Big Sky meet is Feb. 27-March 1 at Idaho State.

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