Second To One

Sept. 19, 2010

Georgia Tech Softball’s fall practices have begun and for the first time since 2008, Jen Yee is not manning second base.

While that is not good news for Head Coach Sharon Perkins, there is cause for optimism, as there is plenty of practice and scrimmage time to try and fill Yee’s spot in the field and in the batting order.

“Those are some big shoes to fill,” said Perkins. “A player like that, you can’t just replace her with one player. Defensively, we’ve got a couple of options, so we’re definitely excited about that. Offensively, it’s going to be a team effort.”

In the spirit of the team’s 2010-11 rallying cry of “Compete,” junior Shannon Bear and incoming freshman Ashley Thomas are frontrunners in the competition to earn the starting spot at second.

“I saw some really good things out of both of them,” said Perkins, whose team played its third and fourth fall practice games Saturday afternoon against Georgia Perimeter College. “Both of them bring a strong bat to the lineup. Defensively, they both do a lot of things well. They both have pretty good range and they make routine plays. That is what you need out of a second baseman.”

Each brings a different skill set to the position.

Bear is a potential power-hitter, who brings two years of experience with Tech’s back-to-back ACC Champions and NCAA Tournament Regional hosts.

“I like that she has a strong bat, she’s aggressive at the plate,” said Perkins. “She’s not coming in trying to draw a walk. She’s trying to get a hit and she’s been successful in the past.”

Bear worked hard over the summer to try to be a little more successful. Her average took a dip from .350 in only 20 at-bats as a freshman, to .180 in 50 ABs as a sophomore. She’s hoping that an extended look will lead to increased production.

“I think I’m more of a contact hitter right now, but hopefully I can hit a few more home runs this year,” said the Grayson, Ga., native, who left Grayson High School as the school’s career leader in home runs, RBIs and walks and has hit four homers in her limited at-bats at Tech. “I’ve really improved a lot hitting since I first came to school here just with the help of the coaches and learning little things and watching my swing. I still have a long way to go but I’ve developed my skills a lot in the last two years.”

Bear stated that Yee played a big part in that development.

“She always has little pieces of advice here and there, especially with hitting,” said Bear of Yee. “She can pick out the tiniest thing that is wrong with your swing and fix it immediately for you. Just talking to her after a day of practice and saying, ‘What can you help me out with? What did you see today?’ She’ll always offer her advice, which is really awesome because she’s been to amazing levels of softball and seen a lot of things. She’s really helpful.”

One thing that may hurt Bear in her quest to man second permanently, however, is her ability to play the outfield, an invaluable role she played during last year’s postseason run.

“She does a lot of things well,” said Perkins. “I like that she can play infield and outfield. Right now, with [Jessica] Sinclair out, that’s another hole out there and she’s been able to fill that well.

“I think [her postseason experience], mentally was a good thing for her,” Perkins added. “She’s definitely more positive going into the season. To bring somebody in at infield and outfield and go back and forth and not even faze her is pretty amazing. She’s done a great job with it.”

Doing her job, wherever needed, is simply part of a bigger picture goal.

“We’re trying to get better every day and we want to make it to the World Series,” Bear said. “That’s our ultimate goal. We have a little more fire this year and we really are more ready to compete for wins.”

Thomas is out to prove she’s ready to play regularly right now.

The true freshman from McKinney High School, in McKinney, Texas, also the hometown of Georgia Tech senior pitcher Kristen Adkins¬ — they went to different high schools and met previously on the field — played the majority of her career at shortstop, but has found the transition to second relatively easy.

“It’s mainly different angles, like my backhand, for instance, that’s what I’m working on right now,” she said. “But basically, it’s the same thing. It’s not that big of a change.”

Thomas has showed she can handle change, as prior to her sophomore year of high school, she abandoned hitting from the right side, where she described herself a good spray-hitter, to hit left-handed and take advantage of her speed.

“I thought I could be used more and have more tricks up my sleeve, I guess you could say, on the left side,” said Thomas, who was a three-time All-District Player of the Year at McKinney H.S. “I could drag and slap and power-slap and hit away. With speed, it makes it a lot easier to get on if you have all those different things you can try to do.”

While speed is an asset to Thomas’ offensive game, it’s been her worst enemy defensively at second.

“I think she doesn’t realize how much time she has,” said Perkins. “At second base you have a little bit more time. The good thing is she’s a very smart ballplayer. To play second base, you have to read the bunt, read the slap and be able to do a lot of things at one time very well and be able to cover different bags depending on the situation. Her quickness is unbelievable. She has great instincts. It’s different angles at second base than shortstop so that’s what we’re working on with her.”

As Thomas works on sharpening her physical skills, she is mentally up-to-speed. That means not getting caught up in replacing Jen Yee.

“She was a great player,” said Thomas. “I’m just trying to go in there and do my best. I’m never satisfied, so I have a feeling that I’ll do well. I’m going to make the plays at second base. I heard Jen Yee was great there. I’m just hoping to fill her shoes as best I can.”

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