April 20, 2013 in Washington Voices

U-Hi’s Hecker a rising – and sliding – star

Steve Christilaw wurdsmith2002@msn.com
 
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

U-Hi’s Brittany Hecker waits to bat against North Central on Tuesday at North Central High School in Spokane.
(Full-size photo)

Jon Schuh loves his pitcher’s delivery.

A year ago Brittany Hecker was voted the most valuable fastpitch softball player in the Greater Spokane League, but it’s not that delivery that makes him smile.

“Every year we have a ceremony to honor the graduating seniors and Brittany was picked to speak for the underclassmen,” the University High coach recalled. “She had everyone doubled over with laughter.

“One day I think she’s going to be a stand-up comic.”

One thing is clear: For the second year in a row, Hecker is a sit-down artist. Batters who face her rise-ball and change-up, mixed in with a screwball and slider, are most likely to be made to take a seat on the bench, most often by way of strikeout.

When Hecker is on her game, it’s no laughing matter.

“When my rise-ball is working I know I’m going to have a good day,” Hecker said. “The great thing about this team is that I have a terrific defense behind me and I have all the confidence in the world in them. They make great plays behind me.”

As the GSL season turns toward the home stretch, three teams – Central Valley, Mead and University – were deadlocked atop the standings, each with two losses.

Of those three teams, however, the Titans have consistently been the most difficult team to score runs against.

“We’ve lost two games, both by 2-1 scores,” Hecker said. “In each of those games we managed just three hits. We just need to be more consistent.

“The thing is, this team can hit really well, top to bottom. We have hitters who can hit the ball out of the park and our slap hitters are very good about getting on base.”

The bats rang out loud and long against Mead last week. Hecker checked the Panthers on just two hits while she and her teammates cracked 10 base hits in a 9-1 win to forge the three-way tie for first place. The Titans followed that up with an 11-0 shutout win at North Central.

Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel was famous for saying, “Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice versa.”

As adages go, this one applies equally well to fastpitch softball, and Hecker said she’s very aware of how easily good hitters could give her a bad time.

“I’ve had some games where I’ve been hit hard,” she said. “If my rise-ball doesn’t rise, it gets hit – hard. There are too many good hitters in this league to be able to get by without your good stuff.”

That’s where it helps to have multiple pitches.

“Her rise is hard enough to hit,” Schuh said. “When she can throw a change-up up there that just falls off the table, it makes her even tougher. You add in a slider and a screwball – let’s just say that when she can throw two and three pitches up there for strikes whenever she wants to, she’s awfully tough on hitters.”

Not only that, but Hecker is learning how to correct pitches that aren’t working during a game. After years and years of pitching experience – four of them with the U-Hi varsity and many, many more in summer softball – she’s become her own best pitching coach.

“Coach Schuh likes to tell us to make adjustments pitch-to-pitch and not game-to-game,” she said. “I’ve been doing this long enough that I can tell when I’m not doing something right.”

That make-up has helped Hecker post four shutout wins in the Titans’ first 10 league games.

Schuh said he’s looking forward to watching Hecker go on to a great deal of success at the next level of softball.

“She has what it takes to be very successful at the next level,” he said. “She’s going to play next year at North Idaho and I think that’s going to be very good for her. It’s tough when there are so few opportunities to play Division I softball in the area. In this state, there’s just Washington. Washington State doesn’t have a program and neither does Eastern Washington, so if a kid wants to go on and play, they have to leave home to do it. I think, for Brittany, it will be good to get her feet wet at NIC first.”

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