Jackets Attain Highest Final Ranking at No. 16

June 22, 2007

A season to remember. That’s what the Georgia Tech softball team can say. A season of unfinished business. That may also ring true.

The Yellow Jackets posted a school record 54 wins in 2007, made their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament, shattered several Atlantic Coast Conference offensive records, and made their third appearance in the last four years in the ACC Championship Game.

“Looking back on this year, if you would have told me that we would accomplish what we did, I would have taken it and not had any complaints whatsoever,” said Tech first-year head coach Sharon Perkins.

But hampering those accomplishments will be the lingering effects of the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Gainesville Regional falling to top-seeded and No. 19 Florida, 8-0, and losing to No. 18 Texas, 4-2, to end the season. The Jackets also were blanked in the ACC Title game, 2-0, by Virginia Tech.

“Unfortunately the bats that we had for most of the season went quiet, but that is postseason play,” said Perkins. “Only one team can end the season a winner.”

Amongst the dozen or so accomplishments are the 96 home runs, surpassing the 75 Tech hit last season, breaking its own record. That mark led the nation and finished as the ninth-best all-time total in NCAA history.

“I’m not a big records person,” said Perkins. “What I am all about is seeing a team work their tails off and try to become the best they can be. If records come about because of that, then we are accomplishing what we have set out to do.”

The Jackets set a new ACC record with 451 runs scored, tied for 11th best all-time in NCAA history. Tech also went on to set new league season records in batting average (.322), total bases (1,027), RBI (416) and slugging percentage (.536).

Another first for the softball program was two All-Americans in the same year. Senior Caitlin Lever became just the second Jacket to garner first team accolades, after setting a new single-season Tech record with 94 hits. A native of Amherst, N.Y., won the ACC batting crown with a .452 mark and signed to play professional softball with the Chicago Bandits.

“Caitlin had an outstanding season and my only regret is that I could only coach her for one year,” said Perkins.

Junior Aileen Morales had her finest season as a Jacket, earning third team All-America honors. The shortstop from Columbus, Ga., hit .339, with an ACC record 73 runs scored and finished second in the league with 34 stolen bases. She is three shy of matching the all-time Tech record in stolen bases and made the Puerto Rican National Softball Team this summer and will have a shot at competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics if they can win a qualifier in August.

“When I first set foot on campus, I knew Aileen was going to play shortstop and be our leadoff hitter,” said Perkins. “She thrived on it and turned it into her best season of her career.”

The Yellow Jackets also tallied top 25 wins over eight opponents, including two over College World Series participants Baylor and DePaul. Another first was a sweep of archrival Georgia, 5-4 and 4-1, in Athens.

“It really validates the type of season we had,” said Perkins. “Everyone’s goal is to win the World Series, but ultimately only one team achieves that goal each year. But we played a tough schedule and to be co-champion of the Leadoff Classic with 2005 National Champion Michigan was a pretty big accomplishment, along with the big sweep at Georgia.”

Joining Lever and Morales in All-America ranks was Whitney Haller. Haller, a sophomore from Marietta, Ga., earned Academic All-America honors after posting another solid season. She hit .372, with 15 home runs and 62 runs batted in. Haller stands third all-time in ACC history with 39 dingers.

“Whitney continued to put up big numbers for us,” said Perkins. “Savannah Brown and Brittany Barnes did the same with 20 home runs each.”

Catcher Savannah Brown also broke an ACC record for the Jackets, knocking in 76 runs, second-most in the NCAA. She hit a career-high .330 and was named to the All-ACC and All-Southeast Region first teams.

Third baseman Brittany Barnes drove in 73 runs, second-best in ACC history and finished third in the nation with that total en route to being named to the All-Southeast Region second team.

The Yellow Jackets finished the year No. 16 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll and No. 17 in the RPI rankings, the two highest rankings in Tech history.

“We have taken another big step in the growth of this program,” said Perkins. “We have a really good group of incoming freshmen who will only benefit from working with the players already in place. It has been refreshing for me to go out among the state and country and hear so many different people speak so highly of Georgia Tech and our softball program.”

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