#TGW: Eyes on the Road

April 11, 2018

The Good Word | by Matt Winkeljohn

There may be no place like home for some, but Georgia Tech softball is bucking trends. They seem to feel right at home on the road.

The Yellow Jackets (21-17, 7-5 ACC) will head up I-75 today with plenty of confidence ahead of an evening game at Kennesaw State and again when they travel to Pittsburgh for weekend Atlantic Coast Conference action.

Tech is 7-3 in road games, after all, taking two of three last weekend at Duke after opening league play last month with a three-game sweep at Virginia.

When the Jackets leave town, they lock down.

If they’re going to reach their goal of punching a ticket to the NCAA tournament next month, every game matters and here’s why:

Sixty four team will earn bids, and while the RPI is not an exact predictor of who will make it, there is no better barometer. The Owls (28-13), whom Tech beat 9-0 in five innings on Feb. 28 at Shirley Clements Merborn Field, carry a No. 49 RPI and they received enough votes (18) this week to rank No. 29 nationally. Pitt’s RPI is No. 67.

Plus, even though the Jackets have already won three ACC series (out of four) in a season for the first time since 2014, they have ground to cover. Their RPI is No. 99.

“I think a lot of [Tech’s road success] has to do with the fact that we know how much the away games mean in terms of our RPI,” said senior shortstop Kelsey Chisholm. “When you win those games, it puts you up in the rankings. That’s something we definitely try to take advantage of.”

The Jackets have just 15 games left in the regular season, although half the ACC schedule — or four more weekend series — lays ahead. Then, there will be the ACC tournament, which the Jackets plan to make.

They’re third in the ACC’s Coastal division, trailing their next two opponents: North Carolina (22-19, 11-4 ACC) and Pittsburgh (20-15-1). The Tar Heels will visit The Flats next weekend.

Opportunities await, and the Jackets will need to be more successful at home, where they’re 9-10 (in addition to 5-4 at neutral sites).

Chisholm has already adjusted.

She had a slow start to the season, but with the help of first-year head coach and former Tech player and assistant Aileen Morales and her staff, she’s tweaked a few things at the plate. Her leadoff home run in the third inning Sunday triggered a four-run inning in a 5-3 win at Duke.

Senior center fielder Draven Sonnon has adjusted, too. She moved into the leadoff spot at Duke, and walked later in the same inning, scoring on a single by Katie Krzus.

In her mind, playing on the road always requires adjustments, and in some places more than others. Games at Florida State, for example, are populated by especially “rowdy” fans.

Chisholm and Sonnon are not the first athletes to suggest that perhaps some focus more effectively away from home when they are out of their comfort zones, like a mountain biker locking in when riding an unfamiliar trail.

“Going on the road is never easy. We leave on Thursdays and get home late Sunday You have to take your homework,” Sonnon explained. “I just want to stay zoned in. In the outfield, we [test] the fences, and see how it will bounce. It’s not necessarily that I enjoy playing away.”

Chisholm and Sonnon are on the verges of futures. They’ll graduate with degrees in business administration in less than a month. Soon afterward, Chisholm will move into a graduate assistant/coaching position at West Georgia, and Sonnon is hopeful that she will soon land a job offer with an Atlanta company in medical device sales.

For a little while longer, they’re focused on the here and now.

The Jackets will look for more success when they’re at home next Wednesday against Presbyterian and then against the Tar Heels.

By the way, Tech’s 9-10 home record might warrant a deeper dive.

Of the 10 losses, seven came against top-25 opponents. There, the Jackets have lost 3-1 to No. 12 Alabama, were swept in three games by No. 12/14 Florida State (including a 4-2 loss) and were edged out 1-0 by No. 5/6 Georgia.

“That’s when we played our best. Obviously, we got the L out of it, but as a whole we showed the country that we’re not to be taken lightly,” Sonnon said. “Any big hit could have changed it.”

First, the Jackets have to make themselves at home on the road again. A win tonight at Kennesaw State, which is 20-5 at home, could be a big step.

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