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Vikings need to find bats in a hurry

The Coeur d’Alene softball team is floating along in uncharted waters.

Since slowpitch gave way to fastpitch 14 years ago, the Vikings have missed the state tournament just once.

That year was 2001. CdA lost a loser-out Region I tournament game 1-0 to Lewiston despite the fact that Devlin Dougherty threw a no-hitter.

The Inland Empire League was still well represented at state that year. Lake City defeated Lewiston in the state final.

With five league games remaining, the Vikings (10-7 overall, 4-7 league through Tuesday) find themselves fourth among the four 5A teams.

The seven league losses are the most by a CdA team since 2001. Unless the Vikings rebound in the final week of the regular season, they’re in danger of having their worst league record since the first year of fastpitch, 1995 (8-8).

CdA could finish as high as second. League-leading LC (15-2, 9-1) hasn’t clinched the league title but should barring a major collapse. The T-Wolves, who swept Post Falls and Lewiston in doubleheaders in the first half of league play, finish with home doubleheaders with Lewiston on Friday and Post Falls on Wednesday. CdA visits LC in a single game April 30.

It’s easy to pinpoint the Vikings’ struggles. In a word, it’s all about hitting.

“We’ve videotaped them, gone over their swings, talked about mechanics,” CdA coach Larry Bieber said. “We’ve been putting in extra time in the batting cage.”

There’s still time to turn things around.

“We’ve got some kids who were perennial .300 hitters who are hitting less than .200,” Bieber said. “Our team batting average is .223 – the worst ever.

“We’re playing great defense and Amber (Coburn) is pitching well enough for us to win. We’re just not helping her out. It’s put extra pressure on her. We’ve just got to get our offense going.”

Thankful for invitation

I’ve always wondered what the term ‘invited walk-on’ means when it comes to college athletics.

OK, I do know what it means, technically speaking. But aren’t any non-scholarship athletes welcome to play sports in college?

Not unless you’re invited, I suppose.

Coeur d’Alene senior two-sport standout Natalie Stewart is headed to Washington State to play volleyball as an invited walk-on. If she has her way, though, the ‘invited walk-on’ tag won’t last longer than a year.

If Stewart proves she can play at WSU, an athletic scholarship will be forthcoming. As it stands, however, Stewart could have the cost of her education paid for through academic scholarships.

“I actually have enough scholarships that I could make money,” Stewart said.

Talk about hard work paying off. She carries a 4.45 grade-point average and will give the valedictorian address to her classmates in June.

Stewart wants to prove that she belongs at a Pacific-10 school.

“They’ve told me that I’ll be competing for playing time this year and definitely next year,” Stewart said.

WSU has just two setters in its program and one, Renee Bordelon of Lake City, will be a senior next year. So the door is open for Stewart to show that she can ultimately step into Bordelon’s shoes.

“Natalie brings a winning attitude to our program and she will have the opportunity to compete for the setting position,” WSU coach Andrew Palileo said last week.

“It’s a no-risk situation for them,” Stewart said. “I feel like I can compete for the job. The next couple of months will be crucial. I need to get stronger. It’s quite a leap up (to the Pac-10), but I’m up for the challenge.”

Out, but still hurdling

CdA senior hurdler/sprinter Hanna Johnson, who has been lost for the year with a stress fracture above her ankle, has given Portland State an oral commitment.

She took second at state last year in the 300-meter hurdles.