by Zachary Knecht
Featured Image: Photo by Weber State Athletics
The Weber State Wildcats are finally back in action – hopefully – as they host the visiting Portland State Vikings in their opening series of conference play. The Wildcats have not played in 18 days, with inclement weather postponing or canceling games against Utah Valley, Utah, and Idaho State. They look to brush off the rust and fast to start their conference season on the right foot.
The Wildcats and Vikings face off in a three-game series on Wildcat Softball Field between Friday and Saturday. Each team is part of a three-headed beast in the Big Sky – including Sacramento State – who are seen as the favorites to take the conference title. In the preseason polls, Weber State and Sacramento State were co-favorites to wear the crown, but the Vikings fell one vote short of splitting it thrice. WSU is slated to begin its conference campaign with a challenge, but the challenge is a recurring theme with the 2023 season.
The snow has been cold in Utah, but the bats need to be hot. If there is any struggle for Portland State, it certainly hasn’t been their bats. The Vikings were electric in non-conference play, carrying their momentum into their home series against Montana. Portland State won two of their three contests against the Grizzlies, outscoring their opponent 22-7 on their home field.
The Vikings hit for no power against Montana but made good contact with the ball throughout, with three players averaging .500 and above to kick things off in the Big Sky. Emily Johansen is the highlight of the lineup with her .667 average and five RBI in their first three conference games.
Portland State’s pitching also got on the right track after rough non-conference trips. The Vikings sport a team of 2.88 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. Allicitie Frost had the most dominant performance in her start, allowing one earned run over five innings while striking out three.
Dropping the Weights
Though Portland State has one of the more potent rosters in the Big Sky, the opening conference tournament may be a sigh of relief for the Wildcats. WSU has played five-consecutive games against ranked opponents and has the eighth-hardest strength of schedule in the country to this point. No game against a rival is a walk in the park, but it certainly must feel better than playing the #1 ranked team in the nation.
This weekend will be the first we get a true sense of the talent Weber State possesses. As for hitting, McKell McCuistion and Lauren Hoe are the most exciting coming out of non-conference play. The duo has been reliable for the Wildcats and looks to ignite the lineup in their unique ways. McCuistion is a superb contact hitter, leading the team with a .355 AVG and .943 OPS. She can hit out of the park or play small ball, making her poised to threaten any pitching staff. Hoe possesses more power than McCuistion and is always a threat to go long. Her five home runs and 18 RBI are by far the best on the roster.
Weber State’s pitching rotation flashed signs of excellence against some of the nation’s top rosters. Particularly, Amanda Johnson saw a workhorse load in her 15 starts and nine complete games. Her ERA wasn’t flashy given the talent of their opponents, but it is clear that WSU has a lot of confidence in her performance and will turn to her when needed.
The Wildcats have a set of three games against the Vikings, with the days and times as follows:
Friday, April 7 at 3 p.m. MT
Saturday, April 8 at 1 p.m. MT
Saturday, April 8 at 3 p.m. MT
Stay up-to-date on the latest in Weber State Softball here at The Hive Sports, and follow on Twitter and Facebook.