May 6, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
With pinch-me moments coming frequently over the past few weeks, Samantha Pierannunzi, Jessica Kowalewicz and Colleen Darragh have tried to slow down, yet as Georgia Tech’s three senior softball players enter the final weekend of their careers, it sure hasn’t been easy.
Pierannunzi and Darragh graduate Saturday with degrees in business administration, and the Yellow Jackets will follow with the first of three games against Pitt, beginning at 7 p.m. at Mewborn Field.
Kowalewicz graduates in December with a degree in biomedical engineering.
They’re all alternately stunned and as proud as possible. Pierannunzi breaks down the process of reflection, first in macro style.
“I just finished my last test [Thursday], and I was the first one out and . . . because I knew as I was taking the test I didn’t even need to take it to graduate, I didn’t expect to feel it because it didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things,” said the power-hitting outfielder of her recent surprise.
“But I thought, ‘Wow, what an accomplishment to have just finished a college degree at Georgia Tech; that’s incredible.’ I called my parents and we were like, celebrating a little bit together. If I look at where I was when I started here, and the person that I am today, it’s like worlds of difference.”
Darragh, the crafty outfielder from Jacksonville, Fla., went micro behind the scenes.
“My pinch-me moments are off the field, in the locker room,” she explained. “It’ll be the last time I get to see Crosby [Huckaby] and Malea [Bell], just our teammates goofing off in the locker room . . .
“Most of them [pinch-me moments] are like the last time I get to plug my phone in the speaker and dance with my teammates before a game. Little things like that are what I’ll miss the most. I’m going to miss softball, but I’m going to miss my teammates way more than I’m going to miss the game.”
Kowalewicz has put together her best season while starting all 50 games at second base for the Jackets, and she can’t help but think back – even beyond her time at Tech – as she fast forwards past her time growing up in Stone Mountain and attending Providence Christian Academy to the present.
“I would say it’s hard to believe [that softball is nearly over], but we’ve put in so much hard work that all of our hard work has paid off to where we got to live out our dream and play college softball,” she said. “We put in all that time, and it’s kind of like a rite of passage.
“You put in all this work, and the time comes and you can look back and say I gave it everything I could, and I can go to bed knowing that I gave it my all . . . In practice, especially this last week and the week before, you felt no pressure . . . I’m just going to ball out and show as much as I can.”
She’s shown plenty this season.
Kowalewicz leads Tech in batting average (.325), hits (51), runs scored (37), doubles (12) and on-base percentage (.425). She’s also hit seven home runs with 22 RBIs.
Pierannunzi led the Jackets with a .306 average as a sophomore, and paced Tech as a junior with 29 runs, 29 walks and 15 stolen bases. The Peachtree Ridge High School graduate from Suwanee also earned ACC Academic Honor Roll mention in 2015, and studied in Spain last summer.
She hasn’t let up this season, batting .264 as her 10 home runs are equal to those of teammate Kelsey Chisholm atop team statistics. She’s driven in 24.
Tech has shown her plenty.
“I think we’ve been playing this game for 17 years . . . so it’s crazy to think that all comes to an end,” Pierannunzi explained. “But at the same time, I think every day of work that I’ve put in for 17 years was a learning lesson for me, and shaped me into the person that I am today.
“While I did have a lot of growing up to do, I think that Georgia Tech was an incredible place to do it, and I’m thankful for that. I hope that I can give back to it and all the people who brought us here, all the coaches.”
Soon, Pierannunzi and Darragh will give of themselves in the “real world.”
Darragh will return to her hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., and chill for a couple months before jumping into work.
“I have a full-time offer [there] with Insight Global, a staffing firm, and I’ll be starting in July,” she said. “I kind of live in a vacation spot, and I’m literally probably going to be at the beach every day, soaking up the sun.
“It’s kind of crazy to me to think of where we were as freshmen, and now we’re seniors . . . It’s crazy to think of everybody I played with, and all the coaches I played under, and now it’s all wrapping up. It’s kind of a whirlwind.
“I can’t really put into words how grateful I am to be ending my career at Georgia Tech, but my time has come. It’s a bittersweet moment. It’s sad that we’re leaving, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way and I’m proud to say I made it and I was here for a reason.”
Pierannunzi will begin working with Deloitte, in Atlanta, in September, “in internal services and marketing.”
Kowalewicz has plenty of purpose as well.
She’s nearly finished playing, of course, and has one more semester – which she’s happy about – but she’s not cutting her Tech ties just yet. She and Pierannunzi are going to be roommates.
“I graduate in December, and then I’m going to try to find a job in the medical device field,” she explained. “I want to try to make a difference in the world. I want to find a company that is geared toward helping people make a difference in their lives. I love Atlanta.”
These young women won’t miss the offseason conditioning program.
“We had this series of 5 a.m. [workouts], that were awful. And for me, January practices . . . you have weeks of practices in miserable cold,” Kowalewicz said. “I don’t know how people do it up north. It’s cold enough here.”
Pierannunzi stated, “I will never again set an alarm before 5 a.m.”
They’re all going to miss Tech in special ways. They’re going to miss watching each other evolve – on the field and off.
“The second [pinch-me moment] was actually her, not me, last Friday in practice,” Pierannunzi said, gesturing toward Kowalewicz. “Jessie made a play, like a backhand, and coach [Rodney DeLong] gave her some advice, and gave her the play again later. She made the adjustment that he was talking about and she looked like she could’ve been the best second baseman in the country.
“It was cool because you’re so proud of how your teammates, your friends, are growing. I don’t even think of them any more as teammates; they’re just my best friends, and they’re growing and changing. They’re incredible people and players.
“I was like, she’s worked so hard . . . for her to be able to make that adjustment, to be able to turn a good play into a great play with a small piece of coaching, that was a really cool moment. I was really proud. The people who come to games don’t see those things, and our teammates don’t even see all those things.”
The final pinch-me moment may arguably be on Sunday, at the end of the second game, when the three seniors hang up their cleats after playing their final game at Georgia Tech. A place that’s left its mark on them, and they’ve certainly left their mark on it.