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Jan. 20, 2010

by Jon Cooper, Contributing Editor

ATLANTA — It wouldn’t be right to characterize Georgia Tech softball coach Sharon Perkins as impatient. She just doesn’t believe in waiting around.

Imagine Perkins’ relief last Tuesday, when her team began hitting in the three indoor cages at their Mewborn Field facility.

“It’s been nice to be able to go in there,” said Perkins. “It’s a lot better than at the other park where we had just one indoor cage, so we’re coming out of there all day. Now I feel like I’m getting quality time out of the players. So that’s nice.”

Nice would understate Perkins’ three seasons as Yellow Jackets head coach. In that time her teams have won 132 games (a cool .680 winning percentage), a school single-season record 54 of them coming in her inaugural season of 2007. They’ve twice finished with the highest ranking in school history, including a school-best 13th last season when the Jackets reached their first Super Regional.

For 2010, Perkins is expecting more of the same and will go about it the same way.

“Just go out there and keep fighting the same way that we fought last year,” said the 35-year-old native of Sarasota, Fla. “We had a tough year [in 2008]. We were kind of plagued with injuries and to come back and do what we did last year. You don’t really know until you roll the ball out and see what you’ve got out there. It was definitely a fun season and we have some good kids that are coming in, a good freshman class coming in.”

It’s a good thing, because Tech lost three of its top players in pitcher/third baseman Tiffany Johnson, first baseman Whitney Haller,and centerfielder Blair Shimandle, who accounted for 23 homers, 126 RBIs, 180 hits, 117 runs and 46 of the team’s 84 stolen bases. Johnson also was 14-3 on the mound with a 1.92 ERA in 22 starts, and held batters to a l170 average.

“On the field, it’s tough to replace,” she said. “All three of them were just great people in general. They were great team leaders for sure, great at just keeping the team together and in knowing what we as a coaching staff wanted.”

Of course, Tech still has senior second baseman Jen Yee, the club’s leader in batting average (.415), slugging percentage (.813), hits (73), runs (64), doubles (18), homers (16), walks (41).

“She’s nice to have,” said Perkins with a big laugh. “She’s one that you know you can count on, especially postseason, she’s going to come through.”

Sophomore shortstop Kelsi Weseman (.406, 45 runs, 63 hits, 9 HR, 40 RBIs), and outfielder Christy Jones (.322, 30 runs, 46 hits, 22-of-27 in stolen bases), and pitcher/3B Kirsten Adkins (9 homers, 40 RBIs, 24-7 record, 1.69 ERA) also will help pick up the slack.

Pitcher Hope Rush leads that incoming freshman class.

“I think Hope Rush is going to be strong for us pitching and hitting,” said Perkins. “She’ll be interesting to watch. She did well this fall. She’ll be able to eat up a lot of innings for us.”

The entire team better come hungry, because their schedule is a mouthful, featuring 18 teams that made the NCAA tournament and three World Series teams – finalist Florida, Final Four-team Alabama, and Georgia, whom the Jackets will play in a first-ever home-and-away series.

“It’s grueling,” said Perkins with a laugh. “It’s to prepare for postseason. That’s the only way to get them to get it. If you don’t prepare them in practice then they’re not going to be prepared in the game and if you don’t prepare them in big games they they’re not going to be ready for the big games in postseason.”

Perkins knows postseason, reaching the College World Series as an assistant at Southern Mississippi in 1999 and 2000. That program was built from scratch.

At Tech, “It had a good foundation when I first got here,” she said. “I think the pitching staff has gotten better progressively through the years. Pitching’s the name of the game. Us and Washington last year, that pitcher (UW Junior Danielle Lawrie, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and Women’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player), just owned everybody in the country. That’s what a pitcher can do for you.

“When I first got here offense was their strong suit,” she continued. “That’s what they did, they hit all the time. We didn’t really have the pitching to be able to contain other hitters so we had to work on defense. Some teams have a strikeout pitcher. We didn’t really have that. We had pitchers that could hit spots, we’d make the plays defensively and we would score runs and that’s how we won. But I think our pitching has gotten a lot stronger.”

Perkins hopes her staff’s pitching is at its strongest on April 7th, when Tech hosts Georgia at Mewborn Field, then on April 21st, when Tech visits Georgia Softball Stadium in Athens. This year marks the first ever home-and-away series with Georgia.

“It’s a big rivalry,” said Perkins, who was an assistant in Athens from 2001 through 2006. “I spent six great years there and it was fun. [Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer] was my boss for 10 years (also at Southern Miss). Just in general, Georgia-Georgia Tech is a huge deal. It’s always a fun rivalry.”

Perkins is having a lot of fun these days, especially now that her team is gearing up for a new season.

But there is no mistaking the ultimate goal.

“Your goal is to win a national championship,” she said. “I don’t want to just make it through the season and play our 56 games. That’s no fun. I want this to be fun and I want to win. I’m here to win.”

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