Jan. 30, 2013
THE FLATS – The defending ACC Champion Yellow Jackets return to the diamond in 2013 for what is shaping up to be another successful season. The Jackets return six starters from a 2012 squad that finished 37-23 overall, captured their third ACC tournament title in the last four season and made their 11th-straight NCAA tournament appearance.
Head coach Sharon Perkins is in her seventh season at the helm of the program and will guide a very young 2013 squad through a rigorous schedule. The team features just two seniors, four juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen.
Of the six returning starters, three are juniors and three are sophomores, both groups have already experienced an ACC Championship and trips to the NCAA tournament. It sets a great foundation for the next three seasons to have freshmen experience that level of play.
“They had a really good experience and had solid years as freshmen at a high level,” Perkins said. “For them to come back their sophomore years with a year under their belts and to already know what the experience will be like it’s going to be that much better.”
In addition, there will be something new this year for Tech: good depth at every position. The Jackets suffered several injuries last year to critical players, and were forced to shuffle the lineup. Although Tech was spread thin, it gave players a chance to play and get used to other positions.
“This is the first year we have a lot of depth and good depth,” Perkins said. “We’ve had some crazy injuries throughout the years. We’ve had back-to-back years of crazy injuries and it’s typical of any team. It’s just nice to have people that can really step in and play the position well.”
Last season, Rush compiled a record of 26-12 in the circle. She made 42 appearances, pitched 31 complete games with 10 shutouts and allowed just 71 earned runs with 146 strikeouts in 248.0 innings pitched for a 2.00 ERA.
“Hope obviously has the most experience,” Perkins said. “When you come in as a freshman and you’re an All-American that pretty much sets the tone. We’ll definitely go to her right out of the gate. Hope changes speeds really well, she’s good at spotting pitches, she keeps the ball in the ball park and keeps people off balance in changing speeds and locations.”
Kleinschmidt pitched 98.0 innings over 24 appearances with 11 complete games. She amassed a 6-9 record and a 5.29 ERA.
“Kylie throws really hard,” Perkins said. “When you’re a hitter and you go from someone mixing speeds and you have to kind of be patient and stay balanced, and then go to someone who is throwing gas, then it is a difference to try to make an adjustment as a hitter.”
New on the scene for Tech is freshman Ashley Clifton. The Sharpsburg, Ga., native will be worked into the rotation and could see pitching time very soon thanks to a productive fall.
“Clifton had a really good fall, which is great as an incoming freshman for her to have such a great fall,” Perkins said. “She was really consistent throughout the fall, so I’m really excited to see what she has.”
Another option and an example of the team’s depth is for sophomore Karly Fullem to pitch. Fullem who played majorly at first base last season could throw a few innings for Tech.
“Karly might throw some too,” Perkins added. “She worked really hard in the fall, threw a number of innings and did a good job of keeping everybody off balance, including our team in game play, which is pretty impressive.”
“Alysha and Courtney will split time catching just to save their legs,” said Perkins. “Both of them are great behind the plate with great arms and worked really well with the pitchers. They have great communication.”
While Rudnik has the most experience leading the infield from home plate, Perkins isn’t worried about Ziese being able to take the reins of the infield.
“I think she showed she could be a leader,” Perkins said. “She was quiet when she came in. Offensively, she just kind of ran with it and kind of wowed some people on the team, showing her stuff. She has the confidence to get back there and do that which is great.”
She also isn’t worried about their ability to fill the gap left by two-time ACC Player of the Year Kelsi Weseman.
“It’s hard when you had such a great senior. Alysha has already played some at third. The fall was really smooth from us. I don’t think we’ll miss a beat there. We’re obviously sad to see her bat go, but both of them have stepped up really well with their bats too and we’re excited to see what they can do.”
When Ziese isn’t catching, she’ll likely be playing third base and vice versa with Rudnik. Another option at the hot corner is freshman Maddie Lionberger. A native of Austin, Texas, Lionberger can play every infield position.
“We also have Maddie. She can kind of play anywhere. She’s practiced at every infield position, which is great,” said Perkins.
At short, junior Ashley Thomas returns as the primary option after starting all 60 games there last season. Thomas also makes an impact on the base paths with her speed. She swiped a team-high 31 bases last season.
“Ashley has a really good read, which allows her to have good range. She’s just really athletic and moves really well. Some people you look at and they are very mechanical. She just flows really well.”
Sophomore Chelsie Thomas returns to play second base after earning the starting role there as a freshman.
“Nobody else covers the amount of ground that she does,” Perkins said. “Second base is a position where you have to be quick and really smart because of a slapper coming up and having to cover first on the bunt, covering second on the steal, or you have to be ready in case somebody swings away, so second base is the position where you have so many things to juggle and she handles it really well.”
Fullem will most likely begin the season at first base after starting in that position 41 times last season. If she is called in to pitch, then Lionberger and ever Rudnik can fill that role.
Tech will also rely on the bat of sophomore Caitlin Coffey, who can also catch and play second.
“She really impressed me at second. She’s athletic. She’s always got a great attitude. She’s a good motivator and you have to have kids like that. She’s a hard worker and pushes everybody in the weight room and conditioning.
“She’s very good with the pitchers and spent some time behind the plate in fall games, but the value of having her in the bullpen is huge because she’s able to get the pitchers on the same page and focused in the bullpen before they go out. [Pitching coach] Lisa [Norris] can’t be everywhere. We’ve got somebody like Coffey that can be on the same page with the pitchers and know what they are doing well and what they need to work on.”
Junior Hayley Downs will start in center field to anchor the outfield after starting all 60 games there last season.
“She runs the outfield,” Perkins said. “She just covers so much ground. She’ll run through the wall literally. She’s day in and day out giving 110 percent. She gives it all in. She’s the heart and soul of the team with her work ethic, which is what we need. We need somebody to do that. People lead in different ways and she’s a vocal leader, but she’s also out there every day doing it. She’s a great representation.”
In right field, sophomore Katie Johnsky will be the primary starter. Johnsky started in 57 games last season and put together a .256 batting average with 14 runs on 34 hits.
“She’s made the routine plays, but she’s made some unbelievable catches out there,” said Perkins. “She’s fully aware of where the tarp is, and she’s made so many diving catches right up against it. Her feet have gotten really good out there and she has just absolutely locked it down. She’s very comfortable out there.”
There is competition among senior Kelly Delashmit, junior Kaitlin Kates and freshman Morgan Taylor for the starting position in left field. The good thing is that Coach Perkins has options, which wasn’t the case last year.
“We’ve got some options, which is nice depending on what we need,” Perkins said. “Morgan Taylor had a really good bat for us this fall so if we’re looking to put a hitter in there, then she can get playing time. Kelly Delashmit has worked in all three positions, so she’s comfortable there. Kaitlin Kates is a slapper with more speed and can cover more ground, depending on what we need.”
The Georgia Tech softball team’s 2013 schedule features one Women’s College World Series team and 12 NCAA Tournament participants. The reigning Atlantic Coast Conference champion Yellow Jackets will host tournaments on back-to-back weekends to open the season and play 24 home games at Mewborn Field.
Twelve of the teams Tech plays this season advanced to a 2012 NCAA Regional (Coastal Carolina, Miami (Ohio), Northwestern, California, Florida, Oregon State, Georgia, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida State). Georgia, Missouri and Cal reached the super regionals, and Cal advanced further to the WCWS.
The Yellow Jackets’ 2013 opposition amassed an overall record of 898-640 (.584) last season and Georgia Tech’s record against this year’s competition is 293-207 (.586). Perkins is 135-49 (.734) at Tech against this year’s slate.
Tech is scheduled to play in four tournaments and opens the 2013 season Feb. 8-10 with the Georgia Tech-Kennesaw State Invitational when the Yellow Jackets welcome Eastern Michigan, Butler, Missouri State and Coastal Carolina.