Neaux Place Like Home

March 20, 2012

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Kaitlin Kates knows the importance of going home.

As one of Georgia Tech softball’s top pinch-runners, the sophomore outfielder’s job to get there.

This week, going home has taken on a whole new meaning for the Morgan City, La., native, as she and the Yellow Jackets are in her home state to play LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette.

The LSU game, originally scheduled for today in Baton Rouge, was moved to Tuesday in anticipation of storms in the area, while Louisiana-Lafayette is scheduled for a twin-bill on Thursday. First pitch for game one Thursday is 6 p.m. ET.

This is a trip that Kates has been looking forward to since seeing the teams on the schedule.

“LSU was definitely the one team that I wanted to play,” said the former three-sport star (softball, volleyball and track) at Berwick High School, which she led to four straight district championships as a shortstop. “That’s the big team back in Louisiana. I was excited that I’d be able to play at home so people would be able to come and watch. It’s hard for everyone to travel to Atlanta to watch us play so I was really excited to find out that we were coming [to Baton Rouge] and playing UL, too, because that’s even closer to where I’m from.”

Simply being physically able to play this year is exciting, especially after missing all but two games of her freshman campaign with a broken hand.

“Last year my hand was in a cast and they wouldn’t let me do anything,” she recalled. “It was more of a watch-and-learn perspective. This year is definitely different because I get to practice and I get to play.

“Right now I’ve just been pinch-running, which is one of my favorite things to do because I love to run the bases,” she added. “It’s really fun that I’m actually getting to participate this year and not have to just sit back and watch.”

Kates, who has scored seven runs and is 6-for-9 in stolen base attempts (her six stolen bases rank fourth on the team), already has been an important participant on the trip.

She’s served as tour guide and directed the team to Landry’s, a landmark seafood restaurant in New Orleans’ French Quarter, for a team meal.

Back on her old stomping grounds, she helped make her teammates feel at home in navigating the menu — no small feat.

“Everyone asked me how to pronounce different words, what different sea foods were, which was pretty funny because they’re normal to me,” she said. “It’s what I’m used to. So I got to recommend different things to different people.

“Everyone had trouble pronouncing Pontchartrain, and jambalaya and etouffee,” she added with a laugh. “No one knew what etouffee was either.”

Kates will literally go home today, when her family throws a crawfish boil for the team.

“Everybody was asking about the crawfish and how you eat crawfish,” she said. “Everybody is excited about that, to try it out. I’m excited, personally, because I haven’t had crawfish in forever and it’s one of my favorite things to eat.”

The Jackets should expect the competition on the field to be as spicy as the cuisine off it.

LSU began its Tuesday tilt at 19-8 and a 15-3 home record. Like the Jackets (19-13, 0-2 on the road, 8-7 in neutral-site games), the Tigers are “among those receiving votes” in the most recent USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll and have already played several common opponents, including DePaul, Southeastern Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Auburn and Mississippi State. In those games, the Jackets are 2-3 (one game was cancelled), while LSU is 6-5, including a sweep over Mississippi State, which beat Tech, and a pair of shutout losses to Oklahoma (7-0, 5-0). Tech beat the Sooners, 1-0.

ULL presents an even bigger challenge to the Jackets. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 26-0, 16-0 at home, and are currently ranked eighth in the country. They share three common opponents in Mississippi State, Winthrop and Arizona. ULL, which attended the NFCA Leadoff Classic, but never met Georgia Tech, did beat Mississippi State, 5-3, and Winthrop, 6-1. Its game with Arizona was cancelled. Tech fell to MSU, 5-3, in its Leadoff Classic finale then beat Winthrop, 5-0 at the Buzz Classic. Tech also knocked off U of A, 2-1, at the season-opening Kajikawa Classic, when the Wildcats were eighth in the country.

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