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Game Within A Game

May 13, 2010

By Jon Cooper
RamblinWreck.com

There aren’t a lot of pitchers in the nation that will call out Jen Yee.

It’s hard enough to find a pitcher brave enough to even throw her a strike.

Yet there is at least one pitcher unafraid of Yee and she is a lot closer than one might think. In fact, she resides in the same locker room.

It’s none other than Hope Rush.

Leave it to a freshman to boldly go where no one other pitcher seems willing to, daring to challenge the 2008 Canadian Olympian and finalist for 2010 USA Softball Player of the Year.

“I like the competition,” said Rush. “Even if someone is a LOT better than me, I like competing.”

Rush, who homered on the third pitch of her collegiate career, felt compelled to go mano-a-mano with Yee in home runs.

And while she will never get into Yee’s kitchen in a game with her repertoire of pitches that earned her a league-high 26 wins, a 1.70 ERA (sixth) and .212 opposing batting average (ninth) – the closest she’ll get is in practice – the former Eagle’s Landing High School sensation isn’t afraid to go high and tight verbally, jabbing the hornets’ nest that is the unflappable Yee, who Rush even calls “the best hitter in the nation.”

The give-and-take made great theater throughout the season for the defending conference champion Yellow Jackets, who chalked up a 19-2 record in ACC play.

“[It happens] all the time,” recalled senior outfielder Kelly Eppinger, with a laugh. “Hope will come in after hitting a home run, and she’ll be like, ‘I’m coming for you, Yee’ and just like give her a hard time. The next time Yee’s up, she’ll hit another home run and they just kind of go back and forth, joking about Hope trying to catch her.”

“That’s just Hope,” Eppinger added. “She’s a great player. She saw something that would add some more fire to the game and she’s making it a game for everyone.”

In her Quixotic attempt to take down the windmill that is Yee, Rush found a Sancho Panza in junior first baseman Kristine Priebe.

“In the beginning they were neck-and-neck, then later in the season, when Yee was approaching 20, Hope and I figured out that if we added our home runs together we would equal Yee,” said Priebe. “So we’ve been adding our home runs together. Hope has definitely gone up quite a bit and she’s catching up with Yee. It’s just kind of a fun way to keep competition friendly.”

Rush found another ally – albeit an unwitting one – in her chase of Yee in opposing ACC pitchers, who, as a group, were unwilling to throw Yee anything resembling a strike. Yee received 44 free passes in 21 conference games, 2.10 a game. The next closest player to Yee was Florida State shortstop Ashley Stager, who had 15 walks, .71 per-game.

“At the beginning of the year we had a little friendly race,” said Yee. “She’s catching up to me, though, because I don’t get many at-bats these days and I don’t get many chances to hit them out.”

The rivalry has brought an added level of respect to the new kid on the block, who thought nothing of going after not only the biggest dog on The Flats but one of the biggest in the world.

“I think it says a lot about Hope. She’s got a lot of fight,” said shortstop Kelsi Weseman, who was ACC Freshman of the Year and a First-Team All-ACC selection last season, but admitted she never considered taking on her double-play partner. “I can’t hit home runs like Hope can or Yee, so….”

Yee won the regular-season portion of the battle, setting an ACC single-season record with 26 homers (tied for the most in the nation with BYU infielder Angeline Quiocho), while Rush finished with 18 (the Rush-Priebe combo totaled 33) for the Jackets, who launched 107 homers on the season – second in the country and 47 more than the nearest ACC rival, North Carolina. In fact, the trio of Yee, Rush and Priebe, who were 1, 2 and 3 in the conference, would have been the third-best TEAM in the ACC, only one behind the second-place Tar Heels.

The Yellow Jackets will meet Boston College at 5:00 p.m., Friday, looking to take the first the step in defending the ACC Championship. Simultaneously, the postseason chapter of the battle between Yee and Rush will begin.

But the ultimate beneficiary of the latter undoubtedly will be Georgia Tech.

“The more home runs the better,” said Yee.

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