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Hitting her spots

Lakers senior Morgan Hess starts her windup during the first inning of Monday's game against Morris Area-Chokio-Alberta. (Ryan Pietruszewski | Echo Press0

After playing a few games for the Minnewaska Area softball team last season, Morgan Hess tore her ACL and was forced out of the lineup for the rest of the year. This year as a senior, she's putting in more than enough work to make up for time lost to the injury.

Hess' most lethal weapon is her pitching ability. With stats updated through Monday night's game against Morris Area-Chokio-Alberta, the Lakers have been in the field for 112 innings, and Hess spent 92 of them in the pitcher's circle. She boasts a stellar 11-4 record and an earned run average of 0.76, as she has allowed just 10 earned runs. She has struck out 89 batters of the 371 who have stepped to the plate for a strikeout rate of nearly 24 percent, and has walked 12 batters.

To get back into the swing of things, Hess said she played winter ball in St. Cloud.

"She's very mentally tough," Lakers head coach Steve Hoffman said. "I've seen that a lot this year. She just bears down and at times you feel like she's going to decide that she's taking it on herself and going to carry the load."

The other Minnewaska player to toe the rubber this season is Rachel Erickson, who has a solid 2.14 ERA with seven strikeouts and six walks over 19 2/3 innings and owns a 3-0 record.

While it's nice to see some time from a different position on occasion, Hess enjoys getting the most of the action in the circle.

"Pitching is a lot of stress," she said. "It's more of a job. It's nice to have breaks every once in awhile, but at the same time, there's a lot of positives to it, too. You have the control — you don't have to sit back and watch. I like being in that position."

Hess had an especially impressive performance on Tuesday, May 9 against Montevideo. She pitched the whole game — one of 12 complete games on the season — and when they finished the 5-0 victory, coach had to tell her what she had achieved.

"At the end of the game, coach said to go get the ball," she said. "I thought, 'Why?' And then he said it was a no-hitter. It was a nice surprise. They're another good-hitting team, so it was nice. It was a team effort, everyone really put into that."

As much as the team relies on Hess' arm, she's also a big component of the offense. As the leadoff hitter, she leads the team with a .569 batting average, with Abby Versteeg (.489) and Bayley Pooler (.407) in second and third.

Hess also leads the team in on-base percentage at .606, hits with 37, doubles with eight, runs scored with 22 and stolen bases with 10. Pooler has a team-leading two home runs and is third in runs batted in with 17, behind Kaitlyn Lange's 19 and Versteeg's 19, while Hess has 16.

"I think I've gotten a little more aggressive at the plate," Hess said. "I took a lot of batting practice this winter. It's just a lot of sitting back, waiting for the pitch. I think definitely a lot of (my success at the plate) came from just practicing a lot, and it helps just to be really patient and wait for your pitch."

The no-hitter game was the Lakers' ninth win in a row, but they hit a bump in the road two days later against Sauk Centre and committed nine errors in a 14-13, extra-inning loss.

"Sauk Centre came to play, that's for sure," said Hess. "That's the thing about softball, you can't judge anything by records. You have to play the team because it's totally about what team comes to play, and Sauk Centre, they came and they were hitting. It didn't help that we were making errors. I think we kind of got into a funk — once we made one, the whole thing fell apart."

The following day, last Friday, Hess and the rest were right back on track and claimed a tight 2-0 road win over BOLD. The Lakers then dropped Monday's home matchup to Morris by a 3-1 score before beating them 4-3 on the road Tuesday.

After the split with Morris, Minnewaska is 15-4 overall, 4-2 in Section 3AA play and 10-4 in the West Central Conference. With sections starting May 23, Hess is going to need a few more solid starts if the team hopes to make a run.

"When she really needs to, she'll hit her spots and make some big pitches," Hoffman said. "If they rip one out, it's not going to be because she gave in to them. She pitches with no fear, and she's going to go for her spots. Most of the time she hits them."