Nov. 22, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Thanksgiving was last Thursday, but for Georgia Tech Head Softball Coach Sharon Perkins the holiday may run through the spring and into the summer.
Perkins’ squad is already two-time-defending ACC Champion and, based on recently completed fall practice, has a lot to be thankful for, especially when it comes to pitching. It’s the kind of pitching that should not only make the Yellow Jackets favorites to take home a third straight ACC crown, but also give them a very good shot at advancing into Super Regionals.
That’s saying a lot, considering the Jackets were 49-9 last season, 19-2 in conference play. Within the ACC, last year’s staff tied for the lead in shutouts (5), was second in ERA (1.93), runs (45), earned runs (37), home runs (7), hits allowed (101) and complete games (14), while finishing third in opposing batting average (.204).
All those second-places obviously signaled there was room for improvement. The recruitment of Lindsey Anderson — which should counter the transfer of Jessica Coan –has made that room about the size of a New York City studio apartment.
The key to the staff is starting rotation of sophomore Hope Rush, the team’s returning ace, who was ACC Freshman of the Year and the first freshman ever to earn NFCA All-American honors, senior Kristen Adkins, who is 24-7 with a 1.69 ERA in two seasons at Tech, and Anderson, who was 5-AAA Player of the Year as a senior at Northview High School.
Applying the finishing touches where needed is new pitching coach Shaina Ervin. Georgia Tech softball fans might remember her from her career at North Carolina State, where from 2003 through 2007, she was instrumental in raising the Wolfpack from start-up to ACC champs in three seasons, winning the 2006 ACC Tournament MVP. Ervin, who is still second in school history in wins (55), appearances (124), starts (105), complete games (72), shutouts (19) and strikeouts (704), doesn’t have nearly the resurrecting job at Georgia Tech.
Ervin is excited about the versatility of her trio of starters.
“They all bring something different to the table, which is a good thing,” she said. “That’s what you want in a staff, is pitchers that can complement one another. The biggest thing is having enough pitchers to where they can challenge one another. It pushes Hope to take her game to the next level and it pushes Kristen to take her game to the next level and it pushes Lindsey to come in and want to prove that she belongs here as a freshman. When you have that competitive drive and those competitive tools that you can use,it can only make your pitching staff better.”
Fall ball was a good start.
Rush, who was excited simply to see live batters again after limited action during the summer, was really excited to see Ervin.
“I love working with her,” said Rush, who was a team-leading 28-8 last year, 12-0 in the ACC, with a 1.47 ERA (16 earned runs in 76 innings), with 10 complete games, three shutouts, and two no-hitters, including one in the ACC Tournament semifinals against North Carolina. “She knows so much about the game. She pitched and she played in the ACC. So I’m real excited to see what happens in the spring.”
Ervin sees a lot of the same things in Anderson that she sees in Rush.
“Lindsey has made great strides over the fall,” said Ervin. “She still has a lot of work to do, just getting adjusted to college softball, but she’s got that mentality. She’s a bulldog, where she can come in and you don’t see anything on her face as far as ups and downs go.”
Anderson, who admitted that the hiring of Ervin as pitching coach was a factor in her decision to come to Tech, is eager to team with Rush, whose team she played against in travel ball, although she never faced Rush.
She has already picked up plenty from her.
“Hope has a really awesome change and slow curve and that’s what I really wanted, to have more off-speed in my game because I don’t have that,” said the Johns Creek, Ga., native. “I try and take a lot of notes on that from her. Also, she is very much about following through her pitch and I sometimes snap and stop. So I watch her and try to follow through more and try to pick that up in my technique. We kind of feed off each other, especially when were in warm-ups and in the bullpen just practicing.”
Anderson is excited about the prospect of competing in the big time of the ACC but sounds even more excited about the friendly competition within the staff itself.
“We push each other a lot,” she said. “Whether we want to admit it or not, pitchers are really competitive and they want the ball off the time. We’re ballhogs. But I really think we make up a really good pitching staff. We complement each other so well that if one person can’t carry the game, another person can come in and the batter will have to make adjustments. So it really works out.”
While Anderson is similar in styles to Rush, Adkins is a lot like Ervin, who also was a dropballer.
“It’s great,” said Adkins, who is heading into her senior season and third at Tech since transferring from Florida. “Just knowing that she knows exactly how my body position is supposed to feel, and where I’m supposed to be at timing-wise, with each pitch is really awesome. Getting her insight, because she was exactly where I was, has helped me tremendously this fall.”
The start of spring practice is still about two months away, but excitement is already building.
“They’re each working on those things that make them individually unique, but when you look at the staff as a whole, it looks pretty promising for the future,” Ervin said.
That future definitely includes another victory lap with the ACC Championship trophy.
“It’s definitely something that we want to accomplish,” said Adkins. “But like last year, it was much more difficult for us to win the ACC just because we had that target on our back. This year it’s going to be a little more difficult because, again we have that target on our back. But don’t write us off by any means because we’re still going for blood this year.”