Ecks delivers another big-game performance

MANASSAS — She’s won two national fastpitch softball championships and a World Series MVP award.

Her grade point average as a high school freshman is 4.0.

As an athlete and a student, Cristi Ecks can seemingly do it all.

“She’s a 14-year-old kid with a great future,” Osbourn coach Renee Leake proclaimed Friday afternoon.

That, of course, was said in the euphoric aftermath of one of the program’s biggest achievements — an 8-3 victory over reigning Northwest Region champion Gar-Field.

Still, Leake’s endorsement had a ring of truth to it. With Ecks sharing time with Lydia Sumner in the circle, the Eagles (6-1) are off to their best start as a Group AAA team. They won four of five games at the prestigious Grand Strand Classic in Myrtle Beach and, with Friday’s nifty 80-minute home field triumph, have now established themselves as a legitimate threat to Gar-Field’s throne.

“We just beat Gar-Field,” Ecks exclaimed. “Nobody thought we could beat Gar-Field, but we did it. This was a big game. Everyone wanted this one so bad.”

The Eagles’ desire was apparent at the plate and in the field. They needed only three pitches to produce their first run and wound up with a 5-0 first-inning lead. Ecks did her part by tossing a four-hitter and also dumping an RBI single down the left field line.

She went 2 for 4 and scored twice to ignite a 12-hit outburst, but Ecks’ most important contributions came in the circle.

Admittedly anxious about facing a team that reached the state semifinals last spring, Ecks relied on the support of her teammates and the big-game experience she’s been exposed to as a member of the U-14 Shamrocks and U-12 Manassas Blaze travel teams.

“This was pretty tough. They’re ranked number one and I was really nervous,” Ecks said. “But the defense was great and we scored some runs early and that helped me relax.”

With all-district shortstop Stephanie Gaynord, freshman second baseman Alyssa Kemerrer and third baseman Katie Lee combining for eight assists and three put outs, Ecks tamed the area’s most feared lineup and handed the Indians just their second loss in seven games this season.

“She mixed her pitches and threw the ball well,” Gar-Field coach Mike McDonald said. “We really only hit her hard one inning.”

That inning was the sixth when the Indians scored all three runs on four hits, including an RBI double by sophomore Katy Foster. Ecks, who led the Shamrocks to the Disney Fastpitch Festival championship two months ago and to a PONY National championship last summer, carried a no-hitter into the sixth against Gar-Field.

Indians senior Kelly Brown, the region’s 2001 MVP and recent Virginia Tech signee, broke up the no-hit bid with an infield single leading off the inning. Two Osbourn errors and an RBI double by freshman Rebecca Horesky closed the gap to 5-3, but the Eagles turned an inning-ending double play and got all three runs back in their last at-bat to foil Gar-Field’s comeback attempt.

“It’s early out of the gate. There’s tons of ball yet,” McDonald said. “We just have to find our groove.”

The Eagles have already found theirs. After relying almost exclusively on pitching and defense the past three seasons, they batted around in the top of the first against Indians hurler Julia McChain.

Gaynord, who batted .472 last season, hit the first pitch she saw for a leadoff triple. Ecks drove her home with a base hit that dropped just inside the left field line and catcher Sarah White (2 for 4) followed with a first-pitch double. Kemerrer’s one-out base hit brought home two more runs and senior Chelsea Hutton capped the five-hit inning with a run-scoring single.

After sending 10 batters to the plate in the first inning, Osbourn finished the day by scoring its final three runs in the sixth. A bases-loaded walk to Lee and back-to-back singles by designated hitter Laura Hundemerer and Kemerrer (3 for 4) did the damage.

Three days after they routed Forest Park 15-0, the Eagles led from start to finish against a Gar-Field team that won 21 games last spring and was coming off a four-win performance in Myrtle Beach.

“There’s definitely a chemistry,” Leake said. “We only have 12 but they’ve jelled together. We’re trying to create a winning attitude and this will help them gain the confidence they deserve.”

Having Ecks in the circle will also help. The Eagles have championship aspirations in their first season as Cedar Run District members and she already knows about winning it all.

“I’m hoping to take this team to states. I think we can do it,” said Ecks, who was named the 1999 World Series Tournament MVP as a 12-year-old for the Manassas Blaze.

“But it’s not just me. We’re playing good defense and we have a great offense. I don’t have to strike everyone out.”

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