Ecks, despite Wednesday’s struggles, confident in ability to bounce back

Not all days will be bright and sunny, especially when you’re a freshman.

Ecks has been a pleasant surprise this season, leading the team with a 0.98 ERA and 155 strikeouts, which was second in the Big East going into Wednesday’s game.

But with starting pitcher Cristi Ecks battling through control issues against UCF, the Virginia native was never able to find a rhythm on the mound, and the Golden Knights had her number at the plate.

Ecks couldn’t hit her spots consistently, tying the shortest outing of her brief career and allowing three runs in 2 1/3 innings. Pitchers, however, must have the ability to forget bad outings and not dwell on negative thoughts.

For a first-year pitcher, Ecks is already taking that kind of attitude.

“You can’t let games like this keep you down, and we have conference games this weekend, so that’s what I will think about,” Ecks said. “I’m not going to let a game like this get me down.”

Despite the bad outing, coach Ken Eriksen won’t hesitate to pitch Ecks in a big conference game.

“We play Louisville this weekend, and (Ecks is) going to get the ball,” Eriksen said. “And she will continue to get the ball this season.”

Ecks’ character as a young pitcher has been tested a couple of times this season, and she has done a good job of bouncing back. This is just another test for her to pass and another learning experience in her freshman season.

Ecks struggled in the Mercer Nissan Invitational in a 17-5 loss to Troy on March 25 where she allowed six runs on six hits in 2 1/3 innings. Ecks responded, however, with a solid performance in the season’s first Big East contest against Seton Hall.

In six innings of work, Ecks recorded 10 strikeouts while scattering four hits and three runs, one earned.

So Ecks isn’t a stranger to adversity and is learning how to bounce back from bad outings. Wednesday, however, can be looked at in two ways: a bad outing or just one of those days.

“It just happens,” Ecks said. “I guess you have off days, and it happens.”

It’s easy to look at this outing as one of those days when facing a non-conference opponent like UCF or Troy. But with two ranked teams in the Big East and no non-conference games remaining, Ecks can’t afford to have another one of those days. The Bulls need consistent starts from Ecks to be successful as they make a push for a shot in the Women’s College World Series.

Eriksen feels games like the game against UCF give him a good measurement of the kind of character in his freshman pitcher. Ecks along with sophomore Bree Spence, comprise the one-two punch that will carry the team in years to come.

“I think a game like this is going to check the maturity of a young pitcher,” Eriksen said. “This year is a learning experience for her (Ecks). Bree went through this last year, and you see what kind of pitcher she has become.”

Spence has been a big reason for Ecks’ success this season, pushing her and helping her throughout the season. Spence leads the team in wins with 16 and provides healthy competition for Ecks.

Spence can also be a mentor as well, going through many of the growing pains that come with the position last year. Spence and Ecks are good complements to each other and have different styles on the mound.

Spence is more of a finesse-style pitcher who relies on changing speeds and spoting her fastball. Ecks, on the other hand, uses her fastball to set up her off-speed pitches and keeps hitters guessing.

“We try to complement each other because we throw differently and we have different styles,” Ecks said. “The difference really throws off the teams we play, and we just try to help each other.”

Ecks can be dominant to lead the Bulls but can’t afford to have one of those days.