June 29, 2006
In a supposed rebuilding season, the Georgia Tech softball team went out and won 48 games, appeared in its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament, and made it to a second straight NCAA Regional Championship game.
“Making it to the NCAA Tournament again for the fifth straight year is a nice accomplishment,” said Tech coach Ehren Earleywine. “I think what you are seeing is the continuation of Georgia Tech building a reputable program that will continue to compete at that level for years to come. With that success comes better recruits and hopefully improved facilities. We feel like the next step for us in getting to the Super Regionals or the College World series hinges on those two factors.”
The Yellow Jackets attained their highest seed ever in a NCAA Tournament, a No. 2 seed in Tuscaloosa, Ala, and dropped a 7-2 decision in the championship game against the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide. The Tide went on to the College World Series, sweeping No. 12 Stanford in Tuscaloosa.
“Getting to the Regional finals means your one of 32 teams in the country remaining,” said Earleywine. “That’s not bad. I felt like our positional players were as good as anyone in the country across the board, but we just weren’t able to keep the other teams off the scoreboard. When you get to that point it takes pitching and defense to win it and we didn’t do either very well.”
Tech ended the season ranked No. 19 in the NFCA RPI Rankings, behind Atlantic Coast Conference foes No. 15 North Carolina and ACC regular season and tournament champions No. 16 NC State. After Tech were No. 26 Florida State, No. 27 Virginia Tech, No. 67 Maryland, No. 71 Virginia and No. 87 Boston College.
“Cracking into the Top 20 in the RPI is more of validated accomplishment in my eyes,” said Earleywine comparing it to the national Top 25 polls. “They factor in many variables that really matter, none of which is done by a committee of coaches. In the end, you get a true depiction of who can compete and who can’t when you look at RPI.
The ACC finished third in the conference rankings, ahead of perennial powers No. 4 Big XII and No. 5 Big Ten, and behind No. 1 Pac-10 and No. 2 SEC.
The Rambling Wreck finished the season No. 1 in the NCAA for the second straight season in stolen bases, finishing with 138. The Jackets also led the nation in double plays turned with 40, a school record.
Tech broke ACC single season records in home runs (75), runs scored (428), doubles (99), total bases (903), RBI (385), slugging percentage (.495) and runs scored per game (6.11).
“All of those records were nice to break,” said Earleywine. “Again, we really swung the sticks and ran the bases. I don’t know what we would have done without some people having great years at the plate for us. The great thing is most of those positional players are returning next season.
“They say hitting is contagious and I would agree. It’s really more of a confidence thing though. It’s comforting and reassuring to you as a hitter when you see everyone else moving the ball around. That breeds confidence and in turn success. This team never took their foot off the gas on offense and it allowed us to win a lot of games this season.”
The Jackets finished fourth in the nation in runs per game, third in total bases, fifth in home runs, fifth in slugging percentage, 14th in batting average (.306) and 20th in doubles per game (1.41), all Tech records. The Jackets also set new school records with 249 walks, three shy of the ACC record, and on base percentage (.394).
“In the past four years, we were able to win low scoring ballgames with great pitching,” said Earleywine. “There were a lot of nay sayers out there that thought we would be lucky to go .500 this year without that ace caliber pitching returning. That was one of the most gratifying aspects of our season, proving so many people wrong and showing that this program will continue to survive and be successful despite what is being said or predicted about us.”
Before the NCAA Tournament, the Jackets finished fourth during the ACC regular season with a record of 12-9 and entered the tournament as the fourth seed.
After dropping a tough 10-1 decision in five innings against No. 5 seed Florida State, the Jackets rattled off three straight wins over No. 8 seed Boston College, 7-3, No. 6 seed Virginia, 11-2 in five innings, and No. 5 seed Florida State, 4-3. The Seminoles won the second semifinal game, 7-4, to prevent Tech from making its third consecutive ACC Championship game appearance.
Haller was named ACC Freshman of the Year after setting ACC single-season records in home runs (24), RBI (72), total bases (171), slugging percentage (.799) and saves (6). She also broke the Tech single-season record in runs scored (63).
Hosier set new single-season school records with 52 walks and a .513 on base percentage. She hit a career-best .370, with nine home runs and 48 runs batted in.
Lever hit .352 for the Jackets, and blasted a career-high 10 home runs, after not hitting a single one last season. She drove in 39 runs and posted a .571 slugging percentage.
Haller and Hosier were named to the Easton All-America teams, with Haller earning second team honors and Hosier garnering third team honors for the second straight season.
Earning NFCA Southeast All-Region honors for the Rambling Wreck was sophomore Savannah Brown, Haller and Hosier. Brown was named to the second team as a catcher after hitting .295, with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs, while Haller (first base) and Hosier (outfield) were selected to the all-region first team.
During the course of the ACC Tournament, the Jackets set new records with 10 home runs and 28 runs batted in. Tech tied a tourney record with seven runs scored in a single inning against the Cavaliers and set a new record with four team homers against the Eagles.
Tech’s Hosier, Lever and senior Christine Sheridan were named to the ACC All-Tournament Team. Sheridan led the tourney with eight hits and finished with a .500 batting average. Lever tied single-game records with consecutive home runs, driving in five runs, and led the tourney with five runs scored. Hosier hit .438, with two runs batted in, with one double, one home run and two walks.
The Jackets won two tournament titles over the course of the season, capturing the Lady Panther Invitational for the third straight season, and winning their first ever Buzz Classic Tourney in the 14 seasons that Tech has hosted the event. The Jackets won three games on the final day to claim the title, including a 7-1 victory over ACC foe NC State in the title game.
Tech posted Top 25 wins over archrival No. 10 Georgia, 6-4, No. 18 Missouri, 11-6, No. 19 Baylor, 8-0, No. 20 North Carolina, 1-0 in eight innings, and No. 25 Virginia Tech, 3-2. The Jackets finished the season 5-12 against nationally ranked teams. Tech went 15-16 against opponents that comprised the NCAA Tournament field.
The Yellow Jackets also ended the season atop of the ACC in every offensive category, with the exception of hits and triples. For the third consecutive season, Tech eclipsed the 40-win plateau and the Jackets have all but two athletes coming back for the 2007 season. With 83 percent of home runs and 76 percent of run production returning for Tech next season, the Jackets should be in contention for their third ACC title in six seasons.
“We faced so much adversity in losing five players, four of which were starters,” said Earleywine. “That part was hard on all of us. However, with the bad came some good. That adversity was actually where I found my enjoyment this season. The challenge of trying to coach through some of those obstacles was good for me on a professional level. You never want to lose players, but it happens and we were able to work through it with some success.
“We also faced some pretty substantial injuries too, but we managed to keep winning. I know the team came together because of it and they really had no choice. Players got chances to play that might not have been afforded those chances with a deeper bench. That experience was invaluable and will help us down the road no doubt.
“I just can’t say enough about the make up of some of our players. They continue to represent the program the way it should be in so many different ways. They hang in there despite all of the adversity and continue to find a way to win. They’re great kids/people and it’s an honor to coach people with the perseverance and competitiveness that they have.”