In the pitching circle, Morgan Eckes expects to be great.

The Pequot Lakes junior is now being great at the plate as she launched a grand slam against Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale and another home run against Aitkin. Both games were wins for the Patriots.

She also tossed 14 strikeouts in each of Pequot’s wins.

“The key for me in the circle is to trust my team,” Eckes said. “It’s just the confidence that if someone is going to get a hit off me, my defense is going to make a play behind it.”

Her new hitting approach can be credited to former University of Minnesota softball player Sam Macken.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“I’ve been working with her and she has changed my hitting game crazy,” Eckes said. “It’s insane all the things she picks up on and how she’s changed my form.”

Macken is a teacher at Strike Zone Sports in Eagan where Eckes trained over the summer. She said what Macken did to her swing was a complete overhaul.

“We had to start from scratch with my hitting form,” Eckes said. “We really focused on pushing my hips through.”

Pequot Lakes head coach Bret Sergent noticed her improved hitting as well.

“Her approach is a lot better and her pitch selection is a lot better,” he said. “I know she took some lessons this summer and her timing is there and when she hits good pitches she hits them hard.

RELATED:Female Area Athlete of the Week: Pillager 8th grader pitching and hitting Huskies to victory

“She’s learned patience and how to stay still and drive to the ball. Her patience at the plate has improved greatly.”

Against BHV, Eckes’ grand slam came early to give herself run support.

“I like to be aggressive when I’m at the plate as well,” Eckes said. “I’m swinging at those first few pitches in the first inning because that really helps me.”

In the circle, Eckes’ pitch mix includes what she calls a “heavy fastball” with a curveball and change-up she’s developed the last two years.

“My curveball has definitely been a huge part of my pitch lineup this year,” Eckes said. “With the year off, as much as that sucked, it gave me a lot more time to focus on my game, especially with my pitching. I’ve been reading a lot of mental books just to keep my mental game strong. The year off was just something I wanted to use to improve my game.”

That curveball is the pitch that Sergent likes her to throw.

“She’s throwing more strikes,” he said. “She’s more proficient this year. Her fastball is good, but she’s moving the ball around. Her approach is a lot better. She also has brand new catchers this year and has had to get on the same page with them.”

RELATED:Female Area Athlete of the Week: Virnig goes low for 2 medalists

Her ability to shut down an opponent in the circle, but also terrorize them at the plate makes her a weapon.

“Going into this year, we knew we were really going to have to rely on our pitching,” Sergent said. “Morgan has been pitching for us since seventh grade and she’s fought through a couple of injuries the last couple years and has overcome them. She just loves to play the game.”

The improvement at the plate has even surprised her.

“I went from someone, who as a seventh and eighth grader on varsity, had to have someone hit for me,” Eckes said. “Now I’m hitting home runs in ninth and 11th grade. I’ve really been surprising myself with what I’ve done at the plate.”

Sergent gives Eckes confidence to swing for the fences.

“When I get up there I know he is going to trust me to do what’s right for the team,” Eckes said.

What gives Sergent that confidence is he knows Eckes worked hard to be good.

“She puts in her time,” Sergent said. “She’s paid her dues and she knows that she’s had to pay her dues.”

What Eckes likes about softball is the team atmosphere.

“As a group, we just have so much fun out there,” she said. “We are just always around each other.”

If she had to pick her favorite between launching a ball over the fence or punching out a batter with a pitch, the choice is a difficult one.

“That’s such a hard question, but with how hard I’ve been working at pitching the last couple of years it’s got to be the strikeouts,” Eckes said.

Other notable performances:
Softball: Jenna Dykhoff, Wadena-Deer Creek, tallied four hits and two doubles in a doubleheader against Pillager.
Olivia Peterson, Pillager, tallied seven hits and two RBIs on the week.
Emily Sadlovsky, Pierz, went 2-3 with a home run against Albany.
Ramsey Tulenchik, Pine River-Backus tallied six hits with three triples and two doubles on the week.
Halle Zupan, Pierz, went 3-3 with four runs, three RBIs and two doubles against St. Cloud Cathedral.
Brandi Warren, Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale, tallied two home runs and six RBIs in a doubleheader with Menahga.
Golf: Emily Virnig, Pierz, won at Elk River Golf Club with an 86
Track and Field: Ashley Kimman, Pierz, won three events at the Pierz quadrangular meet.

Morgan Eckes

Year: Junior

School: Pequot Lakes

Sport: Softball

Position: Pitcher

Highlights: She hit a grand slam and struck out 14 against Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale. She went 2-3 with a home run and a double and struck out 14 against Aitkin.