The End Of The Beginning

May 22, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

In the NCAA Tournament, it’s win or go home.

Georgia Tech softball is going home after going 1-2 in its two-day stay at the Knoxville Regional.

But they’re not losers.

Losers make excuses for coming up short. Sharon Perkins’ squad made none after being eliminated by No.5/7 Tennessee, 7-0, in an elimination game Saturday night.

They could have.

The Yellow Jackets went into play in the NCAA’s with Christy Jones, their spark at the top of the order and starting centerfielder, limited to pinch-running duty, having broken her hand in practice. Their top pitcher from last year, Hope Rush, wasn’t herself for most of the second half of the season — her issues may require greater inspection from team trainers. And the team’s heart, Jessica Sinclair, was lost in heartbreaking fashion, re-tearing the ACL in her left knee, the same injury that cost her the end of last season.

All this was known before the team even left Atlanta for Knoxville.

While all this tough luck is part of the game, it also could give a lesser team grounds for excuse-making. That’s not the Sharon Perkins way.

“It was definitely a blow when it first happened at practice,” said Perkins, whose team finished 2011 with a 45-12 record. “But actually being here at the tournament, I don’t really think it affected us. It was a bummer, but it was exciting to have other bats in the lineup. I don’t think it had a hangover effect. It was kind of exciting to get other people in and give them the opportunity to play,”

Tech fought valiantly, forcing an elimination game with a perfectly healthy SEC champion and host Tennessee. Tech was no match for pitcher Ivy Renfroe, a 19-game winner with a sub-2.00 ERA, and the Vols’ First-Team All-SEC third baseman Lauren Gibson in losing.

While the team leaves Rocky Top disappointed, it may have discovered something about itself. It is resilient, with lots of heart and, now, a young base upon which to grow with some NCAA experience.

Among that base is second baseman Ashley Thomas. Coming from the same hometown as graduating pitcher Kristen Adkins, she shows the same grit and competitive fire. Thomas started the year dealing with the pressure of having to replace Jen Yee. She finished the year also having to replace senior lead-off Jones.

Another key freshman was outfielder Hayley Downs, who played most of the year platooning with Sinclair in right, then took over for her when she got hurt and finished postseason taking on center field, Jones’ position. The Jackets also realized they had a player in Caitlin Jordan, who first came off the bench bashing when first baseman Kristine Priebe hurt her back. Against the Vols, with the season on the line, she moved to right field. Alysha Rudnik was superb all year long at third and at catcher.

Then there was the play of pitcher Lindsey Anderson. The freshman pitcher was sensational, pitching in all three NCAA games. Anderson, who overcame a minor knee injury during the season, pitched Tech to the elimination game against UT by shutting the door on Liberty, throwing 4 2/3 innings of one-run, two-hit relief, dousing the Flames until the Jackers could mount a comeback. Coming back against UT later that day was simply too much.

“The heat was definitely a factor, but mentally, I just tried to prepare myself and push through,” said Anderson, who finished the year 13-2, “[Pitching coach] Shaina (Ervin) and I had worked a little bit on powering on every pitch, so the heat might have played a factor, but I was definitely trying to overcome it.”

Anderson admitted the depleted roster hurt the Jackets but refused to take that easy way out. She is looking down the road and a return to NCAA Tournament play.

“We definitely have room to grow, especially myself,” she said. “Mentally, I prepared myself as best I could, knowing what I did know. Going forward, I’ll grow from here as a pitcher, and we’ll use this experience to get better as a team.”

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