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Three switches, one big hit

Freshman second baseman adds some punch to PSU 'family'


by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Shae Nelson, a Portland State freshman, shifted to the left side of the plate as a hitter while at Southridge High, transferred from Oregon State to PSU earlier this school year and has moved from shortstop to second base as a full-time starter for the Vikings.Throughout her career in youth softball, Shae Nelson was just like most of the other players — she threw right-handed and batted right-handed.

Her freshman season at Southridge High, though, her coaches talked to her about batting from the left side.

In softball, the ability of left-handed hitters to be a triple threat — hitting, bunting, slapping — is a powerful tool.

Nelson made the switch to the left side of the plate and has never looked back.

“I was very successful with it,” she says. “Being able to slap and hit and bunt, to be a triple threat, I just ran with that.”

This year, Portland State is reaping the benefits of Nelson’s switch. The Vikings have been using the 5-8 freshman as their leadoff hitter and starting second baseman.

“She’s doing great,” coach Barb Sherwood says. “She’s a phenomenal addition to our team, a great kid and a great athlete.”

Nelson has cooled a bit after a hot start, but she is fifth on the team in hitting (.253), third in runs (13) and tied for fifth in RBIs (6) through 25 games.

“We’ve gone against some really tough pitchers and tough competition,” Sherwood says. “It’s a monster jump playing against Stanford and Cal as opposed to playing down the street against Hillsboro and Beaverton.”

Nelson has the tools to be a spark plug at the plate, no matter who she is facing.

“You don’t see a ton of lefties,” Sherwood says. “Anytime you face one, it’s a little different look. A lefty like Shae who can bunt, slap and hit is really a big asset. And she’s been pretty consistent already.”

Nelson almost never wound up on the Park Blocks. At Southridge, she was a four-year letter winner as a shortstop and the runner-up for the Metro League player of the year award in 2013. After her prep career, Nelson went to Oregon State.

“I wanted to play in the Pac-12,” Nelson says. “Going into my junior year, it fell into place for me.”

Nelson played fall ball for the Beavers as an outfielder. It was not the right fit for her, though.

“At Oregon State, it was not very much like a family,” Nelson says. “It was very businesslike. There were no personal relationships with the people or the coaches.”

Nelson began calling other college coaches and making inquiries about playing for them this spring. When she called Sherwood, the first-year Portland State coach encouraged her. “I said I’d give her as good of a shot as anybody else,” Sherwood says.

After a lot of thought, Nelson decided to go to PSU. She has been delighted by the decision.

“I really love the Portland State coaches,” Nelson says. “They’re very approachable to talk to and worked really well with me during the transfer. I tried to talk to other schools. But I felt like I had this opportunity fall into my lap. It was close to home, it was by my family. I love that it’s in the city. There’s so many things to do.

“This has been an amazing fit for me. It’s going really well, and I’m really happy with everything so far.”

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Portland States Shae Nelson says she likes to keep opposing pitchers and defenses guessing what she is going to do as the Vikings leadoff batter.Because Nelson only played fall ball with the Beavers, she did not lose a year of eligibility. While she admits that the transition from one school to the other was difficult, living with her family and commuting to school has made things easier.

“It wasn’t what I wanted to do originally, but it’s been helpful,” she says.

After playing shortstop throughout high school, Nelson switched to outfield last summer and continued playing there during the fall. When she got to Portland State, though, the Vikings had a hole at second base.

“She caught on quickly,” Sherwood says. “She works really hard, has a great attitude and does everything we ask of her. She’s a very hard worker.”

Nelson still is adjusting to the intricacies of second base, in particular the shorter throws she now makes.

“I like it a lot better than shortstop,” she says. “I’ve been getting used to not having to throw as hard. When I first started, I wanted to throw it as hard as I can when I was three feet away from first base.”

Nelson has a .962 fielding percentage, with only four errors.

And, with her triple-threat hitting ability, she often has opponents guessing what she is going to do.

“I love to hit,” she says. “But it’s really fun to be able to bunt and slap and fool other teams. If I can go up and hit a long ball, then bunt the next time, they don’t expect it.”

Part of Nelson’s early success at the plate could be attributed to the fact that opponents did not have a good scouting report on her.

“She’ll have to progress,” Sherwood says. “She’ll have to be better at putting the ball into play on pitches that aren’t necessarily her pitches.”

The Vikings, whose young pitchers have allowed 6.9 runs per game, are 1-2 in the Big Sky after last week’s conference-opening series at home with league favorite Idaho State.

PSU (4-21 overall) also is down to its No. 3 catcher, freshman Alex Flores from Liberty High, after injruies to Lauran Bliss (two broken wrists, out for the season) and Kayla Norrie (shoulder, out indefinitely).

The Vikings return to Erv Lind Stadium this weekend for a Big Sky series against North Dakota (4 p.m. Saturday doublehader, 1 p.m. Sunday finale).

Nelson plans to accept the challenge to do even more at the plate as well as in the field.

“I want to be a really strong leadoff for Portland State and improve my slapping and bunting for the triple threat,” she says. “I want to continue to improve at second base.”

Sherwood is eager to watch Nelson’s career unfold with the Vikings.

“We’re super excited to have her on our team,” the coach says. “We’re looking forward to watching her grow and develop over the next four years.”