Oct. 5, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– While it can be difficult to compare athletes from different eras, it’s safe to say that Jessica Cole would have excelled in any era in which she pitched.
Between 2002 and 2005, Cole — formerly Jessica Sallinger — completely re-wrote the Georgia Tech softball pitching record books and, in the process, helped put Georgia Tech Softball on the map.
Cole will be one of nine in the Class of 2015 to be inducted into the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame at the annual Induction Dinner on Oct. 16 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. She’ll join All-American shortstop Tyler Greene, two-time Olympian and NCAA track champion Chaunté Lowe, long-time director of broadcasting Wes Durham, first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference tailback Joe Burns, four-time Academic All-America punter Dan Dyke, Georgia Tech Football manager and alum Charlie Germany, All-Atlantic Coast Conference golfer Kris Mikkelsen, and Jakie Rudolph, a football All-American Specialist and two-sport letterman in football and golf.
“This is just an overwhelming honor, especially with softball growing as fast as it is around the state and the country, to be able to be a part of and advancing at Georgia Tech, as well,” said Cole, a two-time NFCA All-American, three-time NCAA all-tournament team selection, three-time First-Team All-ACC selection, and two time ACC Tournament MVP, who joins Laura (Williams) Hartman (Class of 2007), as only the second Yellow Jackets Softball player to enter the Hall of Fame since the program’s inception in 1987.
“The people I’ve been in touch with recently, it kind of brings back memories,” she added. “There are a lot of emotions that come up but to be a part of the sport, really getting the notoriety it deserves at Tech, it will always be one of my most important accomplishments of my life. I’m very honored to be a part of this very exclusive club at Georgia Tech.”
Cole certainly has the credentials.
Prior to the Kennesaw, Ga., and Harrison High School product’s arrival, Georgia Tech softball never won more than 38 games in a season. In Cole’s four years, Tech never won FEWER than 38 games. The program recorded its first 50-win seasons, bookending her career in 2002, when she was ACC Rookie of the Year, and 2005, when she was ACC Pitcher of the Year. Cole helped the Jackets win their first ACC titles, in ‘02 and ‘05, and the program punched its first-ever NCAA Tournament ticket in 2002 and never missed the NCAAs.
“When I was there we had a great run and we really turned the program around,” she said. “It’s exciting for me to be a part of that future for the program, too. It’s just overwhelming.”
Cole, the ‘02 and ‘05 ACC Tournament MVP, calls the ‘05 ACC Championship clincher, a 1-0 win over Virginia Tech in College Park, Md., her most memorable game. The shutout capped off a weekend in which Tech didn’t allow a run in any of its three games.
“I just remember that more because I knew that was the last chance and we were hoping to go through Regionals to get to the Super Regionals and then the World Series,” she said. “I remember the accomplishment that we all felt, not just the seniors, leaving the field that last game at Maryland. It was a really great feeling to know that if that was it, then we went out with a bang.
“I remember being able to see my teammates faces more on that game because I knew I had to keep that in my memory banks for the rest of my life,” she added. “That was a great feeling. The seniors that I left with, we went through a lot together. Katie Donovan, we played in high school together then played four years at Tech together. That was emotional. It was a great sense of accomplishment knowing that we won and were going out on top of the ACC.”
Cole went out — and is still — on top of just about the entire pitching section of the Georgia Tech record books, holding career records for ERA (1.12), opposing batting average (.150), strikeouts (1,398), strikeouts per game (9.71), wins (109), appearances (168), starts (152), complete games (123), shutouts (52), and innings pitched (1,008 ⅔). The only career pitching record she doesn’t hold is for saves. Her records are set so high that, even though you never say never, just matching Cole in any statistical category might be about as close to saying never as there is.
She was as dominant in school season records, holding the top spot in all but complete games, where she’s second, third and fourth. In fact, in most categories, Jessica holds the top two and often three spots.
She feels that she simply in the right place at the right time.
“Pitching was the key when I was playing in college,” she said. “Now the hitting has come full-force and the hitters that you see in college are just amazing. We saw hitters like that but not as often as you do now. So I think that has a lot to do with my records still being upheld at Georgia Tech.”
Almost unbeatable when she got in the circle — she finished with a 109-45 record (a .707 winning percentage), on some days Jessica was untouchable.
She fired nine career no-hitters. The Yellow Jackets program has 24. Four of those no-hitters came in 2004. That’s a Yellow Jackets’ single-season record and are more than any other Jackets’ pitcher has for her career — Hope Rush is next with three career no-hit games, all coming as a freshman in 2010. Three of Cole’s no-no’s came against top 25 programs, blanking No. 17 Stanford on May 16, 2003 as a sophomore, No. 13 Alabama on April 13, 2004, as junior — both 1-0 games — then No. 24 Florida State on March 26, 2005, as a senior, by a 2-0 count. They’re the only no-hitters against top-25 opposition in Georgia Tech history.
Cole deflected the credit, preferring to share it with her teammates.
“The no-hitters, you can’t plan those,” she said. “You can work towards averaging strikeouts and things like that and try and keep your runs low each game but a no-hitter is so much a team-aspect on defense. A ball can fall wrong in the outfield. I got very lucky on some of those no-hitter games and I got great defense behind me. So to me, that’s important. I felt it was more of a team-effort with the no-hitters.”
Those Georgia Tech teams were top-notch. In her four years, they compiled a 188-76 record, a .712 winning percentage, were 26-14 in ACC play (.650), and really put on a show for the home folks, going 62-11, an .859 winning percentage.
Following her graduation with a degree in Management, Cole continued her career on the professional level, following in the footsteps of her father, Robert, who was drafted in 1973 by the New York Mets. She played from 2006 through 2010 in National Pro Fastpitch with the Chicago Bandits (2006-08, 2010) and Philadelphia Force (2009).
“Playing on the level that I played at Georgia Tech allowed me to take it to the next level and play pro,” she said. “I got to play with Caitlin Lever, we played on the Bandits together. Aileen Morales, who played on the Bandits with me, and Savannah Brown was with me on the Force. So being able to also play with the girls I grew up with at Tech was awesome.”
Cole said she’s pleased to see the Yellow Jackets continue to provide talent to NPF.
“Every time you see somebody from your alma mater getting drafted and being able to play at that next level, it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside that you’re a part of that,” she said. “You’re all connected. Even though I don’t know some of the players who have been drafted it keeps you excited for the program, that they’re still being recognized. For Georgia Tech to have somebody drafted is another positive for our program.”
She is similarly proud to be connected with her Hall of Fame class,
“Absolutely. Chaunté was just an amazing all-around athlete. I loved watching her and I’ve loved watching her after college to see what she does,” she said. “Tyler Greene was always fun to watch on the field. It’s really an important and special honor and I’m happy to share it with people that I went to school with and I know.”
Among those people with whom she expects to share memories at the induction are her husband, Arte, who she married in November, and her three stepsons, former Jackets coach and current head coach at Missouri, Ehren Earlywine, who will present her, and teammates, including Lever and Amy Hosier, who she said she’s counting on to provide inspiration for her speech.
“I texted Amy and Caitlyn and said we need a day where we can just reminisce so I have some fresh ideas on what I want to say,” she said, with a laugh. “They always give me a little bit of inspiration when it comes to those years.”
Jessica is learning a new aspect of the game these days, that of spectator and No. 1 fan for her stepsons, including eldest, Logan, who will be pitching as a freshman at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga. this spring. She admits it’s not always easy.
“When I was playing, especially as a pitcher, I was in control. It’s more difficult on the watching side having no control on what’s going on, but I’m learning,” she said, with a laugh. “I’ve enjoyed just going out and watching them play and get to see the parents’ side. It’s been really cool for me to transform into that role. So it’s nice to be able to pass the torch and get to relax if you can relax as a parent watching a game when they’re playing.”
Cole also is passing the torch and providing inspiration to up-and-coming pitchers. She provides pitching lessons and is preparing to launch her own business which will help point the next generation of student-athletes in the right direction.
“We help in all aspects on applying and finding a college fit with a focus on softball scholarships,” she said. “Getting to know the student-athlete and their needs on both the academic and athletic levels. I would consider myself more of a recruiting ‘counseling’ company rather than comparing what we do to a recruiting service you can find online.
“We’ve been calling it ‘Collegiate Connection,’ just to help kids figure out their college plan and if that involves softball,” she added. “We’re focusing on softball and try and get them in the best place that fits them collegiately. I’ve been approached by a lot of people. When they were asking if I would help them how much I would charge and a couple of months ago, I thought, ‘I could do this.’ So we’re shooting to launch the weekend after the Hall of Fame Weekend.”
Helping launch future Hall of Fame careers will make a nice follow-up to the recognition of hers and another addition to what has been a memorable 2015.
“I’m real excited about that. I’m just looking forward to it all,” she said. “It’s been a great year.”
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