Feb. 23, 2012
By Jon Cooper | Sting Daily
– As Georgia Tech headed into the 2012 season, the strength of the middle infield and of first-team All-America shortstop Kelsi Weseman were givens.
So far, both have been proven true, sort of.
As the Yellow Jackets head into the season’s third weekend — they open play Friday at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Fla., against DePaul (first pitch at 3:30 p.m.) and Tennessee (first pitch is at 6 p.m.) — the middle infield has been a strength and Weseman has excelled … at third.
“As a whole, our infield is much stronger. We’ve been getting to balls that in the past we haven’t been able to, so it’s definitely been exciting,” said assistant coach Aileen Morales. “They did a lot better than I expected them to be the first weekend. I expected them to be a little bit more nervous. They really settled in and had some great plays, all three of them.”
A key to the move has been the adaptation of the Thomases, sophomore Ashley and freshman Chelsie, up the middle.
They’re easy to distinguish off the field — Ashley is 5-7 and blonde from McKinney, Texas (the home of former Tech pitcher Kristen Adkins), while Chelsie is 5-2 and brunette from Flowery Branch, Ga. — and thus far have distinguished themselves on it.
Ashley’s move to shortstop was a homecoming, as she’s played there most of her career.
She’s also used to filling big shoes, as last season she had the unenviable task of inheriting second base after the graduation of Jen Yee. Now she inherits Weseman’s spot. The main difference, obviously, is that the All-American is still on the team. But that’s a good thing.
“I LOVE playing next to Kelsi,” Ashley said. “She gets the read so a lot of times she makes my backhand less stressful because she can get over there. Having her over there, I love it. We work well together.”
Thomas’ great range and instincts have helped her cover a lot of acreage.
“She gets a great first read and because she gets such a good read with her feet, she can come to the ball, move to it and make plays that a lot of other players can’t make,” said Morales. “That’s not to say Kelsi couldn’t do that. It’s just that she gets a better first jump than Kelsi, whereas Kelsi gets a better first step, which is more important at third. Ashley is a natural middle infielder and she’s come a long way. Her backhand is probably one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. She’s just so natural reading the ball off the bat and taking the right angles up the middle and to her backhand and then she has a strong arm.”
Chelsie boasts similar attributes as Ashley, and similarly, has made the adjustment to the right side.
“Shortstop is a lot more covering second on steals but second base has to cover bunts and has to be ready for anything that happens there,” said Thomas, who played third and some short at Buford High School. “Sometimes if there’s a slapper up you need to cover second on a steal. There’s a lot more thinking, at second base and a lot more being heads-up before the play. I like to just stop and play but you have to be aware for every situation possible because if I mess up one thing it’s going to mess up the whole infield. I have to be ready for anything that’s thrown at me.”
Thus far, she has.
“Chelsie has improved each day, each week. I’m sure she’ll be even better a month from now. I’m definitely impressed,” said Morales. “She is so quick. She gives us a little bit more quickness in the middle. I’m hoping to turn a few more double plays, because we have a little bit more quickness between the two of them.”
Chelsie credits Ashley, coincidentally, her roommate for helping her learn the ropes. The Thomases are roommates, which has been advantageous in getting adjusted.
“It’s been really good to work with her,” said Chelsie. “We got to know each other real well to start off with. We’re throwing partners whenever we throw and we’re always working together trying to make each other better, helping each other out any way we can. So, she’s taught me a whole lot going through all this, because she knows exactly what it’s like because she played there last year. She’s teaching me what I need to do. She’s been a big help.”
“We see each other every day, we talk every day, we’re good friends,” said Ashley. “I’m just making sure she knows the little things and how we do it on Georgia Tech Softball because a lot of teams do things differently. The communication between us is great.”
The duo also is getting it done offensively, as Ashley has been superb leading off, while Chelsie has moved runners along at the bottom of the order. Ashley is second on the team in hits (nine) and RBIs (six), while Chelsie is second in sacrifice bunts (two). Both are among the leaders in runs scored, each scoring six times, tied for third, and stolen bases, where Ashley leads the team with four and Chelsie is tied for second with two. Neither has been thrown out — no Jacket has, as Hayley Downs also is 2-for-2.
Of course, their good chemistry is typical of the excellent chemistry on the entire squad.
“We’re all so close,” said Chelsie. “It feels like a family.”
“We’re more of a sisterhood,” agreed Ashley. “We all trust each other, hang out, have fun playing softball, even when we’re not in softball we still hang out together. We have a very strong bond on this team.”
Morales believes that bond as well as the one between the Thomases also should improve as they continue to progress.
“I think we’ve been able to make the adjustments that they need that will only make our team better,” she said. “I’m definitely excited but you’re only as good as your last win so we’re ready to get going this weekend and make some more big strides.”