April 29, 2011
By Jon Cooper
– Knowing how to win means knowing how to close out an opponent. That means no letting up until crossing the finish line.
The No. 14/20 Georgia Tech softball team (39-8, 13-1) knows how to win and is one win — perhaps as few as 15 outs — away from clinching their third straight ACC regular-season title and fourth in five years.
They’re showing no sign of letting up or of complacency as the Yellow Jackets head into this weekend’s series with Boston College (14-27, 5-10), looking to sew things up. If anything, they’re more determined than ever to clinch and to win as many of their final six games as possible.
“It’s definitely important,” said senior center fielder Christy Jones. “Coming in we’ve only lost one ACC game. It would be silly of us to go out and not compete and drop one or two this weekend. We’d love to clinch the regular season ACC this weekend. We want to get that done for sure.”
“It’s extremely important because if we don’t win out, and we don’t wrap up the ACC, that means we probably aren’t going to host a regional, and hosting a regional means a lot,” added senior pitcher Kristen Adkins. “Having that home-field advantage, not having to travel and having our home crowd, it’s definitely a step up because you know you’re going to face good, solid teams and you want every advantage that you can possibly get.”
The Jackets have lost only three times in their last 21 games. Two of those losses came to Georgia, ranked in one poll as the nation’s top team, the other was the lone ACC loss at Virginia Tech, and two of the three defeats came by two runs. The Jackets also have a chance to set a school record for fewest ACC losses in a season.
Tech showed just how focused they can be last weekend by going on the road and taking care of Virginia, a sub-.500 team, whipping them by a combined 15 runs in two games. They’re preparing a similar show of force this weekend. The Jackets have dominated this series, winning 18 of 20 games (11 of 13 in the Sharon Perkins era, including a devastating sweep last season at Mewborn Field, as Tech outscored BC, 24-3, twice shutting the Eagles out.
This year’s Georgia Tech team sits atop of the standings, familiar territory for them (Boston College is at sixth), but there is a difference.
“This team is definitely different than the past two teams I’ve been a part of the past two years,” said Adkins, who is 18-5 and leading the ACC with a 1.42 ERA. “We have come into this season with a target on our back, but we don’t walk around with a huge chip on our shoulder, and I love that our team is so humble.
“I think that’s what keeps us working so hard day in and day out and on our own time,” she added. “You see more people coming in and taking extra reps and encouraging their roommates and teammates to do the same thing. I love that about this team. The chemistry is just great this year amongst the players. You look at us and you don’t just see us as a team. You see us as a family.”
That togetherness has allowed the team to rely on each other and hold each other accountable. Every member of this year’s team feels a responsibility to contribute.
“We have come back in a lot of games and we have a lot more fight than we did in previous year,” said Jones, who is hitting a career-best .323 out of the leadoff spot, is second in the ACC in stolen bases (29, one behind leader Giannina Cipolloni of Virginia) and is only six hits shy of matching her career-best season. “This year it takes the lineup one through nine to win a game, as in past years we’ve relied on some big hitters. So I think the team in general has a lot more fight than in past years because we know it’s going to take all of us to win some games.”
Never being satisfied is ingrained in the team’s personality, and is something that has been sustained despite the preponderance of players who have never played on anything less than a conference champion.
Jones is an exception. She was on the 2008 team that was 32-31 and 9-11 in the conference. That experience made her invaluable in helping this year’s team stay even-keeled emotionally during the season’s second week, when Tech lost three times in five days by a total of five runs.
“There are a lot of players that haven’t had a bad season as a Yellow Jacket. I hope that they never have to have a bad season,” she said. “But at the beginning of the year, our second week in we were struggling and people were just getting down. We had to remind them that you can lose some games, you can turn it around and win the rest and still have a great season. I think our team did well managing those losses and coming back strong.”
Now the goal is to finish strong.
“I think they understand the importance of it,” said Adkins. “When they see how hard [upperclassmen] take those losses, when they see the energy and the intensity that we come back to practice with the next day for the entire week to carry it on, I think they understand it.
“The girls, especially the underclassmen who have come in, do a great job of just pushing each other and pushing themselves and pushing the upperclassmen,” she added. “I can’t get over the freshman class that we have because I love them, their personalities, their athletic abilities. They’re great. They have added a ton to the team.”
“[Having momentum] definitely affects you,” said Jones. “I’ve seen both sides of it. Having that confidence going into the tournament knowing that you’ve already beaten some teams and you can definitely put up a good fight against these teams, it helps a lot.”
Adkins believes it’s paramount for the players to continue trying to improve.
“I go into every bullpen trying to make it better than the bullpen I had the day before. I know Christy goes in and she tries to have a better hitting round than she had the day before,” she said. “It’s not just competing against the person in the other dugout or competing against your teammates. It’s competing against yourself and who you are on our best day. I think that’s what’s making us better and a difference that this team has taken this mentality on.”