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Hope Springs Eternal

Feb. 17, 2010

by Jon Cooper, OSR Associate

ATLANTA — Players occasionally become legends by plowing head long — and perhaps head strong — into what had been uncharted territory.

It’s too early to call Georgia Tech freshman pitcher Hope Rush a legend after one weekend of play, but it’s not too soon to suggest that she’s capable of blazing a path toward legendary status after winning two of the Yellow Jackets’ three games at the USF Wilson-DeMarini Tournament and being named ACC Pitcher of the Week in her first crack at it.

In her first collegiate start on the mound, Saturday afternoon, the Stockbridge, Ga., native threw a five-hit shutout to beat third-ranked Florida.

Talk about uncharted territory, Tech had been 0-5 all-time against Florida, had been outscored 40-5 in the five games, including an 11-1 waxing last season, and had only held the Gators under seven runs one time.

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Rush out-pitched All-American Stephanie Brombacher, who entered the game 42-0 in her career, and Rush hit a two-run homer off her in the sixth inning.

With that one swing Rush accounted for as many runs as the Jackets had scored in an entire GAME against the Gators.

The only way her performance could have been more legendary was if it had come in her first collegiate game.

Alas, that wasn’t the case. But in her first game, Rush accounted for the game-winning runs, hitting a two-run homer in her first collegiate at-bat in the first inning. She showed some mortality, having to wait until the THIRD pitch to deliver.

The next day, Rush, threw 6 2/3 innings of no-hit ball against East Carolina. She threw only 76 pitches and had a two-ball count on only five hitters.

“She’s an amazing all-around player. Probably the best incoming freshman pitcher I’ve ever had,” coach Sharon Perkins said a good two weeks prior to the tournament. “She’s fun to watch and she hits the ball a ton. It’s crazy. We give her a hard time because her bat is so heavy. Nobody else can swing it. It’s like a big log. It’s like Babe Ruth. She’s a strong girl.”

Perkins estimates the bat is 27 ounces, two to three ounces more than the anyone else on the team uses.

Rush, a science, technology and culture major, loves being around the team that her dad, Bo, a Tech graduate with a degree in industrial engineering, used to take her to watch. “It’s exciting because I’ve been seeing these girls play for years,” she said. “It’s exciting to actually play with them.”

Especially enthusiastic in practice, there’s one drill that really stokes Rush’s competitive fire.

“We’ll have a plastic dummy up there and we’ll do different patterns of pitches,” explained Perkins. “We’ll make a game of it. We’ll count, you get a certain number of points. She’s trying to beat that every time. We tell her, ‘Calm down. Today is just a feel-good day. It’s not good to play the game today.’ But she wants to do it. She’s always wanting to get better.”

It’s hard to think that Rush could be better than she was at Eagle’s Landing High School in McDonough, Ga. She was a three-time GHSA Player of the Year while pitching her teams to three state championships. She was 123-18-2 in her career with a 0.19 ERA and 1,523 strikeouts. She threw 95 shutouts and 56 no-hitters. Her senior year she was 39-4, with a 0.06 ERA (two earned runs in 240 innings), and 457 strikeouts.

At the plate, she hit .455 in her career with 41 homers with 153 RBIs. “I love to hit because pitching is so stressful. Hitting is kind of a relief,” she said. “It’s just stress-relief.”

It’s been said that hitting is timing and pitching is disrupting timing. Rush is a master disrupter.

“She changes speeds well, can throw any pitch,” said Perkins said of Rush, who throws anywhere from 66 miles per hour on her fastball to 49 on her change-up. “She knows her pitches well, she knows what she needs to work on, she’s got great kinesthetic awareness. She makes adjustments really quick, she can feel when it’s right, when it’s wrong. She can throw anything at anybody.”

Rush also is realistic and knows that on the college level there will be days when a team is going to catch up with her. “When it happens, because I know I’m going to get hit, that’s just how it happens,” she said. “I just learn from it and know what I can do to get better.”

That unflappability serves Rush well.

“Just seeing her in game play, you can’t really tell if she’s stressing,” said Perkins.

So calm is Rush that she didn’t blink when facing Jen Yee, actually referring to it as a thrill. “It’s exciting because it’s Jen Yee!” she said of squaring off against the Jackets’ preseason senior All-America second baseman. In fact, the only confrontation that has thrown her off her game since arriving on campus was meeting her favorite Tech athlete.

“I was so awed over [A-back] Anthony Allen. I saw him and I was like, ‘My gosh, I see him on TV.’ “The first week of school, they introduced him to me,” she said with a laugh. “I was shocked that I actually talked to him and I kind of said that a little bit because I was so in awe of him.”

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