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Adaptation

April 19, 2005

By Scott MacDonald

Georgia Tech freshman Aileen Morales made a pivotal decision before her senior year at Hardaway High School began in August 2004. Morales decided that she was going to forgo the second half of her senior year, to graduate early and enroll at Tech. That choice has helped the Yellow Jackets to a 9-2 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference and alone in first place.

“I had the credits to do it and I wanted to be a part of this team,” said Morales. “I talked to coach E [Ehren Earleywine] about it, and he said if I wanted to, I should. It was kind of one of those things were I was like, why not, I might as well do something new.”

Morales has started in all 49 games for the Jackets, 47 of them at second base. She was a shortstop in high school and played two games for Tech at short when junior Christine Sheridan was out. Morales, a native of Columbus, has not shown any signs of inexperience or tentativeness after being thrown into the lions den, being with the team for just a month before the season started on Feb. 5.

“It only took me about three or four days of spring practice to see that she could be an impact player for this team,” said Georgia Tech head softball coach Ehren Earleywine. “I saw her play in high school and summer ball, and obviously she dominated there. She thrives under pressure and that’s what allowed her to make the transition from High School to DI without missing a beat.”

The middle infielder has been instrumental to Tech’s success so far this season. Morales leads the ACC in stolen bases and broke Tech’s single season record of 32, set by Laura Williams in 1996, with 39 steals in 42 attempts.

“I think that’s vital to our team,” said Morales on stealing bases. Especially with this lineup, we have lot more speed than last year. We get on base and run to try and get people in scoring position for our power hitters.”

Morales is batting .323 in the leadoff spot and has an on base percentage of .382. She ranks third on the team with 28 runs batted in and has tallied five doubles and two home runs. Morales ranks in the Top 10 in the ACC in batting average, RBI and runs scored (36). She has proven to herself, to the team and coaching staff, that she has made the adjustment from high school to college.

“It’s rare to find a high school senior who is ready to play at this level,” said Earleywine. “The physical ability is hard to come by, but even more difficult than that is the mental aspect. The transition of a harder academic curriculum, living away from home, making new friends/teammates, and playing for a new coach, are all tough mental transitions for someone of that age. Again, she has great confidence in herself and thrives in situations that present a challenge to her.”

It hasn’t all been easy for Morales. She had to win the respect and trust of her teammates when she first came in. Being a 17-year-old freshman that forwent her second semester of her senior year of high school, could seem pretty arrogant to some players that have paid their dues and expected to be in the starting lineup. But that has not been the case.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Earleywine. “She’s on base almost 40 percent of the time, 29 stolen bases, and outstanding defensive play at second base. She’s our table setter in the leadoff spot and has multiple game-winning hits for us, already this season. She’s made a huge impact on this team in many ways, but most importantly to me, she exudes confidence, and that spills over to the other players. I know if I were her teammate, I would be inspired by her fearlessness and her competitiveness.”

Morales might have silenced some critics in her opening act. Against Chattanooga in the season and home opener, she went 2-for-4, with a stolen base and one RBI, to help lead the Yellow Jackets to a 6-0 win over the Lady Mocs.

“I was nervous and I was like `I’ve got to do well’,” said Morales. “It was a lot more pressure because I was not with the team in the fall and they weren’t sure of what I could do. But now that I’m contributing with the bat, it makes it a little bit easier.”

Before Morales attended Tech in January, she was a senior at Hardaway High School and the starting shortstop for the Lady Hawks. She helped her team to its fourth straight regional title in the fall, with a team leading .414 batting average, earning first team all-state honors. Morales garnered Georgia AAAA Player of the Year accolades as a junior, leading Hardaway to a state title with a .476 batting average.

“The year before we made it to the championship game, all the way through the loser’s bracket,” said Morales. “After winning the first game, we dropped the second and after that, we said that we needed to win just one more the next year, and we did. Winning the individual award was an honor.”

Off the diamond, Morales is an excellent student, maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 in high school. She is currently majoring in Architecture at Georgia Tech, but wants to switch to building construction.

“I’ve always been interested in creating houses and that whole construction area,” said Morales. “When I passed by homes and/or buildings I would come up with ways I could make it better, and that’s what made me decided that I wanted to change my major.”

Morales and the Yellow Jackets are gunning for the program’s first regular season conference title. Tech holds a two-game lead on Virginia (7-4) with two conference weekends remaining; Virginia Tech (2-10) on April 23-24, and at Maryland (4-5) on April 29-30.

Tech will search for its second ACC Tournament title (2002) in College Park, Md., May 12-15. The Jackets will try and earn a bid to its fourth straight NCAA Tournament, May 20-22.

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