April 26, 2009
By Jack Wilkinson
Call it Six Days in April. Not to be confused with “Seven Days in May.” That 1964 film was based on the political thriller novel of the same name. Not that this week in Georgia Tech athletics doesn’t have its own intrigue, drama and long-range ramifications, if not long-range nuclear weapons. Unless, of course, Luke Murton goes on another home run binge.
But for now, as the spring semester winds down and final exams loom next week, Tech teams are positioning themselves for the month of May and the post-season. So let’s follow along daily during Six Days in April: a sporting six-pack on the Flats as April approaches May and the collegiate sports calendar gets serious.
Day 5: I’m a sucker for Senior Day. Especially when it’s Senior Day at the Shirley, and the kind of Senior Day that Whitney Haller, Tiffany Johnson and Blair Shimandle fashioned for themselves, then savored.
“One of my favorite days of playing college softball for Georgia Tech,” Haller gushed Saturday after the Jackets’ dramatic double-header sweep of No. 12 North Carolina enabled Tech to take over the ACC lead by percentage points over the Heels. Already the ACC and Tech career leader in home runs and RBI, Haller pumped her totals in both categories. Pumped her fists, too.
This, from a kid who comes to bat to the most appropriate song of all the Jackets: “She’s a Brick House.” She’s mighty, mighty all right. Just ask Carolina.
In the opener, in the fifth inning, Haller smacked a two-out, two-run homer over the scoreboard in left-center. The homer, her 11th of the season and 60th of her career, upped Tech’s lead to 6-0. It scored freshman shortstop Kelsi Weseman, who’d just ripped a two-run single.
By then, starting pitcher Kristen Adkins had provided all the runs she’d need. In the fourth, she’d crushed a two-run home run for a 2-0 lead. It came off Carolina’s Danielle Spaulding, who began the day 19-2 and with an ERA of 0.88 — seventh-best in the nation. Spaulding also led the country with 299 strikeouts.
She’d fan eight more. No matter. What mattered most: Tech ended UNC’s 23-game winning streak, the longest in the land. Even better, the Jackets were just beginning.
On a gorgeous Saturday on the Flats, the Shirley — as Mewborn Field has quickly come to be known — enhanced its reputation as the coolest place on campus. In a pre-game, Senior Day ceremony, Haller, Johnson and Shimandle were honored on the field. Each was accompanied by her parents. Each was presented with a framed game jersey. Each had a Senior Day to remember.
“It’s a great honor to sweep UNC on a very special SENIOR Day,” said Johnson, who completed the sweep in the nightcap. Not only did she earn her 13th win, she also led off the eighth inning with a single.
Eventually, Johnson scored on a bases-loaded single by Caroline Hilton. The sophomore from Vidalia was hitting just .241 when her soft single to center — with Carolina’s infield playing in — scored Johnson. Hilton was swamped by her teammates. Sweet Vidalia, indeed.
“There’s nothing more exciting than clinching the final regular-season home series of your career on Day One,” said Shimandle, the little outfielder from LaGrange. During the pre-game ceremonies, the P.A. announcer praised “her kamikaze defense.” To wit: “There is not a wall in the ACC she has not run into.”
Nor a field in the ACC, or anywhere, where Shimandle’s made an error in more than two seasons. After Saturday, she’s now gone 140 consecutive games without committing an error.
And then there’s the Blair Switch Project, which continued to pay dividends Saturday. A career .321 hitter entering her senior season, Shimandle was hitting just .260 batting leadoff this year. For Tech’s April 8th game at Georgia, head coach Sharon Perkins flip-flopped Shimandle and Jen Yee, switching Yee to the leadoff spot.
Over the next nine games, Shimandle batted .533, with 12 runs scored and nine RBIs. Yee, meanwhile, hit .467, with 12 runs, two homers and seven RBIs.
On Saturday, more of the same: In the Game 1, Yee walked in all four of her at-bats, scoring once. In Game 2, she lined an opposite-field homer to tie it at 1-1. Weseman later homered, before Hilton’s game-winning single in the eight. By early evening, Yee and all the Jackets were enjoying a post-game barbecue at two RV’s parked beyond the right field fence.
By then, it had been a perfect Senior Day at the Shirley. Dozens of little girls in their softball jerseys helped cheer the Jackets, including a team called “The Flaming Armadillos.” New Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson and his wife watched most of the nightcap. This, Bud, was for you, too.
Some kids literally scooted around the stands on their scooters. One walked her dog. Who cares if final exams begin Sunday on the Flats [when Tech completed for a three-game sweep], and resume in earnest Monday and throughout the week?
Senior Day brought forth the best kind of softball senioritis. “Overwhelmed! Awesome!” Haller said post-game, rolling out the adjectives and calling Saturday’s sweep “A big feat. We are on a roll right now, and I am so excited for Maryland [next weekend at College Park] and for the ACC Tournament.”
Up I-85, the baseball news from Clemson was less satisfying. The Tigers jumped on Jackets starter Zach Von Tersch early and beat No. 4 Tech 8-5. Sunday’s rubber game was not any better, as Clemson prevailed 6-3, keeping the Jackets looking up at division-leading North Carolina.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, on the last day of the Penn Relays, senior Jerome Miller finished third in the men’s high jump, clearing 7’1″. No word yet on whether head coach Grover Hinsdale had one last cheese steak before departing.
And in New York, no Jackets were selected Saturday on the first day of the NFL Draft. That will surely change Sunday.