June 16, 2005
The Georgia Tech softball team finished the 2005 season with a program-best .785 winning percentage (11th in the nation), 51-14, and eclipsed the 50-win plateau for the second time in school history. For their efforts, the Yellow Jackets received their highest ever final ranking, ending the season No. 17 in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 Poll.
“It was a good season and I’m very proud of the girls, for all they accomplished this year,” said head coach Ehren Earleywine. “We reached and beat so many of our goals this year. I just can’t say enough about this team and how proud I am of them.”
The Yellow Jackets also captured their first Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship, going 11-4 during conference play. As the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament, the Jackets cruised to their second tournament title (2002, ’05) with victories over No. 4 seed NC State, 2-0, No. 3 seed Virginia, 3-0, and No. 7 seed Virginia Tech ,1-0 (championship game).
After winning the ACC regular season and tournament titles, the Jackets were given a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Athens Regional. Tech defeated No. 2 seed Kansas, 3-1 in eight innings, and 5-2 and dropped two decisions to archrival and top-seeded Georgia, 8-1, and 2-1 in the regional championship game, to finish runner-up in the regional.
“Unfortunately, we ended our season on a loss,” said Earleywine. “Although we reached many of our goals, we will not be totally happy until we reach our main goal, and that is going to the World Series.”
The 51 wins is the second most ever in school history, one shy of the school record set back in ’02. The Jackets led the nation with 159 stolen bases and shattered the old school record of 89, set back in ’04. Tech drove in a single-season record 268 runs and posted a single-season record .371 on base percentage. The Jackets also set a new single-game school record with seven stolen bases in three different games.
“We were able to score more runs this year and that did so many positive things for us,” said Earleywine. “One, it put less pressure on our pitchers and allowed them to relax and pitch. Two, we were able to get some of our starting positional players a rest here and there when we jumped out to a comfortable lead. Third, it allowed our No. 2 and No. 3 pitchers more opportunities to pitch when we had leads. That experience is invaluable and will pay off next year when those girls have to throw more innings in bigger games.”
“The surprising thing about our offense this year is that we scored a ton of runs and did so with little or no power hitters. You would think a team with great speed like ours would try to manufacture a run and win low scoring games, but it just worked out to where we hit a lot of singles and most of the time someone was in scoring position after stealing a base. The result was almost 5 runs per game and that’s competitive with anyone in the country.”
Tech’s defense was also a reason for success in ’05. The Jackets led the ACC with a .971 fielding percentage and ranked nationally the entire season, ending 20th in the nation. The Rambling Wreck held their opponents to 1.49 runs per game, 16th in the NCAA.
“The hard part about coaching defense is that most players don’t buy into it,” said Earleywine. “That’s a bi-product of our society where home runs and batting average dictate your status as a player. The hardest thing for me to do is to convince my team that defense is important and to take it as seriously as they do their offense. This team plays good defense, but we still have a long way to go.
“Like all other sports, it’s defense that wins championships. In softball you have to combine pitching with defense, since it’s such a pitcher dominated game. But, I believe we won our conference regular season and tournament titles because of those two factors. Our bats were cold, but because we made most of the routine plays on defense and our pitchers threw strikes, we gave ourselves a chance to win. Not to mention, we have such great speed, we were able to get to a lot of balls that most teams can’t get to.”
During the course of the regular season, Tech tied a school record with a 13-game winning streak to start the season and won four tournaments; FAU Worth Invitational, Lady Panther Invitational, Yellow Jacket Invitational and UCF Tournament.
The Yellow Jackets swept Florida State for the first time in program history in Atlanta and defeated Georgia, 4-3, in Athens. Tech did not lose an ACC series the entire season and did not drop a game to any in-state foes during the regular season; Georgia Southern (2-0), Georgia State (2-0), Georgia (1-0) and Mercer (1-0).
“Sweeping FSU in three consecutive games was a highlight, and hopefully a turning point for this program,” said Earleywine. “They have dominated the league for so long that we forgot how to act when we beat them. I know everyone thinks now that now Sallinger is gone, so will be our reign of the ACC and that we’ll struggle to go .500 overall again. Maybe they’re right, but don’t bet on it. I think we’ve got a few bullets left in the chamber for next year.
“Obviously winning the ACC league and Tournament was huge for us as well. For some reason winning the league was more gratifying for me personally. I guess because it shows consistency over time and in more games, than the tournament which can be won by the `hot team’ instead of the best team. Fortunately, we won both and that solidified us as the top team in the ACC this year.”
Tech also attained its highest ever national ranking, No. 13 on Feb. 22, in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Poll. The Jackets were ranked the entire season for the first time in school history and was the only ACC school to do so.
Sallinger, a senior from Kennesaw, Ga., garnered third team All-America honors for the second consecutive season after finishing the year 28-9, with a 1.19 earned run average. She was named ACC Pitcher of the Year and Tournament MVP, after not allowing a run in the tournament. She ended her career as the ACC career strikeout leader, ACC wins leader and ranked fourth in the NCAA in career K’s and tied for 19th in career wins, along with U.S. standout Jennie Finch.
“There isn’t anything I can say about Jessica that hasn’t already been said,” said Earleywine. “She’s an amazing talent and a fierce competitor. She’s acquired almost every award and accolade possible, but to this program she has meant more than that, much more.
“Before she came here as a freshman, the program was struggling to go .500. In Jessica’s four years here we have compiled a win/loss record of 187-75 (.714 winning percentage). Jessica isn’t the only reason for that success, but in my mind she is the biggest reason. That success has created momentum for this program and we can now attract top notch athletes to continue our winning ways.
“There are a lot of All-Americans out there and many as decorated as Jessica, but how many of them can say that? There’s no bigger accomplishment than that…at least in my mind.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank her for all she has done for me and my family. I don’t know if I would be in the position I’m in now if it weren’t for her. Most coaches can say the same about someone who played for them along the way. Their difference makers and they win games. That keeps us employed; it’s not too hard to figure out.
“Although my first year here was also Jessica’s first year, she was recruited and signed before I came on board. I give credit where its due and that is to Kate Madden, who recruited and signed her. I know Kate thought highly of her, but I don’t think she would have even thought that Jesse would achieve all that she has in her four years at Tech. It’s been a pleasure to watch her at work and I’m going to miss writing No. 6 Sallinger in the 1 position that never got old.”
Hosier, a junior from Lakewood, Colo., hit .356 for the season and earned All-ACC first team honors. The outfielder led Tech with 39 runs batted in and was tabbed ACC All-Tournament.
Lever, a sophomore from Amherst, N.Y., ranked second on the Tech squad with 31 stolen bases in 39 attempts. She hit .324 and scored 33 times on the season en route to being selected to the All-ACC first team.
Morales was named Co-Freshman of the Year after leading the ACC with 44 stolen bases in 49 attempts, ranking third in the nation. Morales, a native of Columbus, Ga., hit .297 in the leadoff spot for Tech and earned All-ACC second team honors after carrying a .963 fielding percentage at second base.
Sallinger and Morales were selected to the NFCA All-Southeast Region first team for the Yellow Jackets. Sallinger became the first Tech player to earn first team all-region honors in three seasons (2002, ’04, and ’05).
“If you read any of our game write ups, you would see Sallinger, Hosier, Sheridan, Morales, and Lever in almost all of them,” said Earleywine. “Those are the names of our players who received post-season honors like All-ACC and All-Region, and were really the core of our team in many ways. We wouldn’t have had near the season had those girls not played the way they did.
“There are other players who contributed in different ways and our team wouldn’t have flourished this season without their efforts as well. It takes all types of players to make a team a team, but there has to be a few stars mixed in and those mentioned above were ours this season.”
-Georgia Tech Softball-