In the second game of a doubleheader sweep of North Hennepin Thursday, Central Lakes College freshman Becki Wagner swung at a pitch which was as high as her shoulders.
While most college players would have whiffed or hit a weak grounder, Wagner drilled the offering to deep center field which resulted in a long out.
That is an example of just how good of a hitter Wagner is.
"She's got quick hands and quick wrists and she's very powerful," said Raiders coach Dennis Eastman. "She reminds me of that Kirby Puckett-kind of player. She's got quick hands, very good power and very good concentration.
"Sometimes you get caught up in watching the motion of the pitcher and not the ball and when she gets up against a pitcher the first time she doesn't do well. But the second time she'll learn to pick up the ball and that's when she'll start hitting."
Wagner has used those quick hands and wrists to become the best hitter in all of Division III community college softball. Through April, she was leading the nation with a batting average of .684.
She has led the Raiders to an 18-7 overall record and a 16-4 record in the MCCC South Division, which gives them the upper hand for the No. 1 seed in the Region 13 tournament.
Wagner honed her skills at Staples-Motley, earning three letters in softball while playing third base. And she has seen nothing but improvement over the course of her career.
"I was pretty bad in 10th grade and I hit a little better in 11th grade, and then a lot better as a senior," said Wagner, who began playing softball as a fifth-grader and began fastpitch in the seventh grade. "I think I was a little intimidated by the seniors. But then I started concentrating better. I used to swing at a lot of crap just to hit something. But now I'm not so worried about getting a hit."
During an eight-game stretch when she was named MCCC player of the week, she hit .739 and had five doubles, three triples, two home runs and 17 RBI. More important, the Raiders were 7-1 during that span.
Wagner said she doesn't know why she's hitting the ball so well, but knows she's enjoying it.
"I'm just having more fun out there," she said. "The pitchers in college are a lot better. They are a lot more accurate and that accuracy is a really big thing.
"But it's nice using the yellow balls because they look so huge. Now when I go back and use the white balls, they look just tiny."
To combat the dominant pitchers in college softball, the NCAA recently switched to the fluorescent yellow ball from the standard white balls. The philosophy was the hitters would be able to see the ball better and the game would move away from 1-0 finals.
While that certainly hasn't hurt Wagner's performance, she has still excelled much higher than her competition.
"Every time she gets up you always know in the back of your mind she could jack one," Eastman said. "She could lay it out there. You always know she's got the potential."
Wagner bats in the heart of the lineup, generally in the fifth spot. She is the designated hitter in the first game of a doubleheader while teammate Amy Martinson plays third base. The two switch for the second game.
She also has the pleasure of having strong hitters in front of her. With Erin Thiesse, Jolene Otteson, Destiny Smith and Martinson in front of her, it gives her a chance to drive in a lot of runs.
"She has had a big effect on the runners in front of her because if they get on they know she's going to advance them," Eastman said. "And they have to be awake because she hits the ball very hard and if you're not paying attention she could hit you. That ball comes pretty hard at you and you better be paying attention. "
Despite a spectacular season so far, Wagner has hit a bit of a slide, struggling in CLC's last two doubleheaders. The Raiders managed only four total hits in two losses to Bethany on Wednesday and she admittedly played poorly in two wins over North Hennepin.
"She's in a little slump right now," Eastman said. "She gets home and everyone talks about how good of a hitter she is. Everyone is waiting for her to pounce one over the fence, but she puts more pressure on herself than anybody else."
But so far this season, it's been the opposing pitchers who have felt the most pressure.
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