The junior right-hander is a big reason the Vikings are in contention for a Class 3A playoff berth

by: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Colton's Becky Patterson has the Vikings in contention for a berth in the OSAA Class 3A softball state playoffs.When Colton’s Becky Patterson is on top of her game, the Vikings’ junior right-hander consistently gets the ball to the plate at about 58 miles per hour.

That’s about 10 mph faster than she threw as a freshman, and close to 5 mph faster than last season.

She still has room to improve even more.

Patterson is one of this season’s most dominant pitchers in the West Valley League and a big reason the Vikings (9-7, 5-2 WVL) are in contention for a possible third consecutive berth in the Class 3A softball state playoffs.

“Having a pitcher like Becky moves you into the upper third of your league and gives you the potential to win every game,” Vikings coach Jim Brochis said. “At least, that kind of pitching keeps you in every game.”

After some early-season struggles, Patterson appears to be rounding into playoff form with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season.

Last week, Patterson led the Vikings to a pair of league wins over Gervais and Willamina, as well as a non-conference win over Kennedy. In all three outings, she mixed pitches and hit spots with a precision that may soon attract the attention of college recruiters .

Patterson’s strongest attribute is her confidence.

“When you step into the circle, you need confidence,” Patterson said. “Not arrogance, but kind of that cockiness, knowing that you can make pitches, because that’s what you need to really excel as a pitcher. Confidence is really what it’s all about.

“That and hitting the right spots.”

Patterson has more experience than most players her age. She took up the game in the fourth grade at Colton Elementary School when coach Vance Oberlander taught her a few of the basics about pitching.

She faced tougher competition starting in the summer of 2012 when she started playing summer league ball for coach Tom Portlock’s Portland Cardinals.

That also was when Portlock introduced Patterson to Larry Nichols, the McMinnville-based pitching guru who has groomed some of the state’s most accomplished pitchers, including former Portland State ace Anna Bertrand and Western Oregon’s Jourdan Williams.

“Becky had to change some things about her pitching style and she went through a lot of hard work and a lot of frustration, but she stayed with it,” Portlock said. “Larry has been a good fit for Becky. He just has a very effective and easy-going way and is able to teach the girls things very quickly.

“It takes a lot of time to become a top-level pitcher, but I think Becky has an excellent opportunity to play college softball. There’s no doubt in my mind she’s capable. It’s just a question of what level at the next level? Whether it’s small college or perhaps a Division I school, a lot depends on how much she continues to improve over the next year.”

Patterson attributes much of her recent success to the work she has done with Nichols.

“He definitely inspires me,” Patterson said. “He tells me all the time that he sees me going far, especially at the college level. He said most pitchers usually peak around 16 when they're juniors or seniors in high school, but he said I’m not close to peaking yet.

“He said about the time I’m a freshman or sophomore in college, that’s when I’m going to be my best.”

Patterson was named to the all-West Valley League first team and earned Class 3A All-State honorable mention as a sophomore last season when the Vikings finished 15-10 overall, falling to Toledo in the first round of the state playoffs.

This season, Patterson has started each of Colton’s first 16 games. Through seven league games, she has limited opponents to a .144 batting average and allowed 10 earned runs on 24 hits with 10 walks and 53 strikeouts.

“There are other good pitchers in the league, but I think Becky is right up there,” Vikings catcher Cassondra Neff said. “It really helps to have a pitcher like her. It just makes the game easier when teams go three up, three down.”

In Friday’s 5-1 non-conference win over Kennedy, Patterson checked the Trojans on three hits, walked none, and struck out six as the Vikings extended their longest winning streak of the season to five games.

Patterson said she likes the direction the Vikings are pointed heading into Tuesday's home game against Amity and Friday's road game against league-leading Dayton.

“The attitude has gotten a lot better,” Patterson said. “We work on fundamentals all the time in practice. People are getting more confident. There are a lot of girls who just started playing softball and didn’t know a lot of the little things that you need to know, but our coaches are really doing a great job of teaching.

“We still need to get better from here on out, and I feel we will.”

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