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Jackets Opens NCAA Softball Tourney Thursday

May 13, 2003

NCAA Region Eight Bracket
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ATLANTA – After advancing to the Regional final a year ago, the Georgia Tech softball team (36-23) is making its second consecutive trip to NCAA Regional play, as the fifth-seeded Jackets open NCAA Region Eight play in Tuscaloosa, Ala., against Big Ten opponent Illinois (38-15-1) at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Thursday.

Georgia Tech and Illinois have faced off in each of the last two seasons. The Illini defeated Tech, 3-2, in eight innings on February 21 at the Cox Communications Classic in Gainesville, Fla., while the Jackets topped Illinois, 3-0, at the 2002 Buzz Classic.

The winner of the Tech-Illinois meeting will face the winner between Alabama and Southern at 1 p.m. Eastern Friday, while the losers play at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Thursday. The loser of that game will be the first team eliminated from the Regional.

Tech has already made one trip to the Alabama Softball Complex this season, splitting a doubleheader with the then-17th-ranked Crimson Tide. The Jackets also split with potential opponent Chattanooga on February 11. On the all-time slate, Tech owns a 9-13 record against the seven other teams in Tuscaloosa. The Jackets stand 2-4 against top-seed Alabama, 0-1 versus No. 2 seed Stanford, 1-1 against fourth-seeded Illinois, 1-3 against sixth-seeded Southern Illinois and 5-4 versus No. 7 seed Chattanooga. Tech has never faced third-seeded Massachusetts or No. 8 seed Southern.

This year’s Regional should have a familiar feel to it, as the Yellow Jackets defeated both Alabama and Chattanooga during last year’s run through to the Regional final.

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Tech’s NCAA Regional History
Tech’s NCAA Regional history is brief but impressive. The Jackets made their first-ever appearance a year ago and made the most of it, coming within a game of a surprise trip to the Women’s College World Series. A No. 5 seed, Tech opened the regional with a dramatic 3-1, 10-inning win over second-seeded Alabama, before blanking conference rival Florida State, 7-0, and beating Chattanooga, 3-0. The Jackets then had two chances to secure a trip to Oklahoma City but dropped a pair to the Seminoles, who advanced to the national semifinals. In the first game, Tech dropped a 3-2, nine-inning heartbreaker, as it pounded out 15 hits, compared to the Noles five, but could not pull away. FSU won the second game, 6-1, to eliminate Tech.

ALL-TIME REGIONAL RESULTS (3-2, .600)2002 - Tallahassee, Fla.5/16/02 Tech 3, Alabama 1 (10 inn.)5/17/02 Tech 7, Florida State 05/18/02         Tech 3, Chattanooga 05/19/02 Florida State 3, Tech 2 (9 inn.)5/19/02 Florida State 6, Tech 1

Scouting the Jackets
The Jackets have used a combination of pitching and solid defense to succeed throughout much of the season. All-ACC sophomore Jessica Sallinger leads the pitching staff with a 21-15 record, a 1.20 earned run average and 320 strikeouts in 227.1 innings. Junior Erin Voeltz is Tech’s No. 2 starter and owns a 12-6 record. Defensively, Tech is solid up the middle with catcher Lindsay Wood, who has not commited an error this season, second baseman Felicia Coursey, who has great range and owns a .985 fielding percentage, and center fielder Sara Wissmann, who has great speed to cover a lot of ground. As a team, the Jackets lead the ACC with a .970 fielding percentage. At the plate, All-American shortstop Tara Knudsen leads the team in most categories, including an ACC-best 12 home runs. She is batting .306 with 37 runs batted in. First baseman Katie Donovan (.281, 3 HR, 28 RBI) and right fielder Soraya Reddick (.264, 3 HR, 18 RBI) have both rebounded from slow starts and are batting over .320 over the last 35 games.

A Look at the Illini
Having met Illinois in each of the last two seasons, the Jackets should have a good idea of what to expect from their opening round opponent. The Illini own a solid .283 team batting average, led by Rachelle Coriddi, who is hitting .345 with 21 runs batted in. Jenna Hall (.318) and Janna Sartini (.305) also check in above .300, while Erin Montgomery leads the team with 12 home runs and 38 RBI. The Illini sport a 2.12 team earned run average, led by Amanda Fortune, who is 24-9 with a 1.78 ERA. Sherri Taylor is 10-6 with a 1.99 ERA. Illinois is also solid defensively with a .973 fielding percentage and likes to run as evidenced by 72 stolen bases on the season. In the teams’ February 21 meeting, Tech took a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth when pinch runner Amy Hosier scored from third on an error by the Illinois center fielder, but the Illini plated two in the bottom of the frame to earn the 3-2 victory. The first run scored on an Erin Jones single, and second baseman Katie O’Connell drew a bases-loaded walk to earn the win. Tech ace Jessica Sallinger went 7.2 innings and allowed three runs on eight hits and seven walks in the loss, while Illinois’ Fortune went 8.0 innings, allowing eight hits and two runs in the win. Yellow Jacket shortstop Tara Knudsen went 3-for-4 with an RBI, while Jones was 2-for-3 for Illinois. After defeating Minnesota at the Big Ten Tournament, Illinois was eliminated with losses to Iowa and Michigan State.

Tech splits with Tide, Mocs
Illinois is not the only team the Jackets have gotten a look at this season, as Tech split doubleheaders with both Alabama and Chattanooga. After dropping the first game to the Tide, 3-2, the Jackets topped Bama, 2-1, in game two on April 24. The win was Tech’s first over a top-25 team this season. Jessica Sallinger fired a four-hitter, and right fielder Soraya Reddick drove in two runs to guide the Jackets to the victory. Junior Erin Voeltz allowed just two hits in a 2-0 game one win over Chattanooga on February 8. Knudsen and Tasha Waugh drove in the runs for Tech. The Lady Mocs won the second game 2-0 with a pair of unearned runs off Sallinger, who allowed just two hits.

Playing the Best
The Jackets faced arguably the toughest schedule in program history this season, having already played 15 teams selected for the postseason. Tech has played a total of 25 games against squads included in the tournament field, posting a 10-15 record in these contests. Fifteen of the Jackets 23 losses this season came against teams selected to the tournament field. Second-seeded Stanford played 25 teams picked for the NCAA Championship to lead the Tuscaloosa Regional.

TECH AGAINST THE 2003 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP FIELDDate    Opponent        Result2/8     Boston College  W 7-42/8     South Carolina  L 8-0 (5 inn.)2/9     Boston College  W 2-12/11    Chattanooga     W 2-02/11    Chattanooga     L 2-02/21    Illinois        L 3-2 (8 inn.)2/21    Oakland L 1-02/22    Florida L 9-22/23    Oakland W 3-2 (9 inn.)3/7     Oregon  L 2-13/8     California      L 1-0 (8 inn.)3/8     Oregon State    L 4-13/16    Princeton       W 8-13/16    Princeton       W 4-04/2     Georgia         L 6-04/2     Georgia L 1-04/14    Mississippi State       W 9-14/14    Mississippi State       W 5-34/17    North Carolina  L 3-14/26    Alabama L 3-24/26    Alabama W 2-15/4     Florida State   L 4-05/4     Florida State   L 6-05/9     North Carolina  W 3-15/10    Florida State   L 5-3

Yellow Jacket Bats Come Alive
After batting just .232 prior to the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship, the Tech lineup finally found its groove in the three games of the tournament. As a team, the Jackets improved their average by 40 points to hit .272 over this stretch. Leading the way was sophomore first baseman Katie Donovan, who hit .625 (5-for-8) with two doubles and three runs scored. Right fielder Soraya Reddick and center fielder Sara Wissmann also showed marked improvements over the regular season by each hitting .375 (3-for-8). Reddick also added two runs batted in and three runs scored. Junior All-American Tara Knudsen went 4-for-11 to hit .364. In the 4-3 loss to Virginia, Tech tied an ACC Tournament record with four doubles, including two by Donovan to equal the individual single-game mark. Donovan, who has been great in the clutch over the last two years, was named to the all-tournament team for her efforts. She also garnered all-tournament honors at both the 2002 ACC Tournament and NCAA Regional, where she hit .444.

Knudsen, Sallinger Named All-ACC
Junior shortstop Tara Knudsen and sophomore pitcher Jessica Sallinger were named to the All-ACC team, marking the second consecutive season that a pair of Yellow Jackets were honored by the league. Knudsen makes her second appearance on the squad, while Sallinger, who was the 2002 Rookie of the Year, earns all-conference honors for the first time of her career. Sallinger is the first All-ACC pitcher in Tech history, while Knudsen is the first Yellow Jacket to earn all-conference status in back-to-back seasons since Anne Knobbe in 1999 and 2000.

Heating up at the Right Time
After a slow start to the season for most of the Jackets, three batters in particular have really come alive over the last 35 games. Sophomore first baseman Katie Donovan and right fielder Soraya Reddick are both batting over .320 through this stretch and have provided key support in the line-up behind junior All-American Tara Knudsen, who has had yet another banner season with team-highs of 12 home runs and 37 RBI. After struggling out of the gate this season, Knudsen returned to her All-America form of a year ago with a .349 average (37-106) over the last 35 games. Ten home runs and 29 RBI have come over this stretch for the two-time All-ACC pick.

After a hot streak during the middle of the season, Donovan is back at it again. Over her last five games, she is batting .357 (5-for-14) with three runs scored. For the season, she ranks second on the team with a .281 average and 28 runs batted in. After a very slow start to her second season, she is batting .333 (34-102) over her last 35 games. Nearly as hot over this same stretch is Reddick, who is hitting .320 (31-97) with 17 of her 18 RBI this season over the last 35 contests. She has also driven in eight runs over the last 10 games.

Four is the Magic Number
With solid pitching throughout much of the season, Tech has held its opponents to three runs or less in 46 games, posting a very respectable 33-13 record in these contests. But when the Jackets put runs on the board they’re unbeatable. When scoring at least four runs in a game, Tech is 21-0 this season. By comparison, when scoring three runs or less the Jackets are just 14-23 in 2003. The long ball has also been a barometer for the team’s success this season, as the Jackets are 19-4 when they hit a home run.

Kounting the Ks
With 320 strikeouts this season, sophomore Jessica Sallinger could eclipse her own single-season record of 337 this weekend. She has 320 this season in 227.1 innings pitched compared to 337 in 257 innings a year ago. In 2002, Sallinger fanned 9.2 batters per seven innings, while this season she is striking out an average of 9.9 batters per seven innings tossed. Through games of May 4, she ranked sixth in the country in this category. Sallinger owns 14 double-digit strikeout games in 32 starts this year, compared to 14 in 36 starts in 2002. Sallinger has also topped her own single-game mark twice this season with 17 strikeouts against both Oakland (Feb. 23) and Maryland (March 22). She owns a 1.20 earned run average and opponents are batting just .138 against her. Many of her losses have been of the tough-luck variety, as the Jackets have managed to score just 16 runs in her 15 losses. Six of those 16 runs came in defeats by Florida State and Virginia at the ACC Tournament.

Academic Honors
In addition to their exploits on the field, Tech’s Erin Voeltz and Sara Wissmann were honored for their hard work in the classroom this year as members of the 2003 Verizon Academic All-District III Softball University Team, announced May 8. A junior management major with a 3.72 grade point average, Voeltz earned first-team honors, while Wissmann, also a junior management major, garnered second-team accolades. She sports a 3.34 GPA. They are the first such Yellow Jacket selections since 1997. With first-team honors, Voeltz now moves on to the Academic All-American ballot.

Knudsen Named ACC Player of the Week
After tallying three home runs and 10 runs batted in over a 4-0 week for the Jackets, junior Tara Knudsen was named Atlantic Coast Conference Softball Player of the Week, the league office announced March 31. Knudsen led the Jackets with a .667 batting average (8-12) in doubleheader sweeps of Harvard and Mercer. She also scored eight runs in the four games. In the first game against Harvard, she hit two home runs for the fifth time in her career and drove in a career-high five runs. In the opening game against Mercer, Knudsen went 4-for-4 for the first time this season and hit her third homer of the week. This honor marks her second ACC Player of the Week selection as Knudsen also earned the award on March 11, 2002. Tech sophomore Liz Bartle garnered the league player of the week accolades March 3 of this year.

One of the Nation’s Best
Georgia Tech junior All-American shortstop Tara Knudsen was named to the initial 40-player watch list for the second annual USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award. This award, considered the Heisman Trophy in women’s collegiate softball, is designed to recognize outstanding athletic achievement by female collegiate softball players across the country. The 25 finalists for the award were announced on April 9, with the list being trimmed to 10 on April 29 and then to three on May 13. The winner of the 2003 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award will be announced at this year’s Women’s College World Series.

Preseason Predictions
Coming off its most successful season to date, Georgia Tech’s preseason prospects were much higher than in recent years. The Jackets’ preseason ranking of No. 19 in the NFCA/USA Today Top 25 Poll was the program’s first-ever national ranking to open a season. Tech cracked the national rankings for the first time last season, checking in at No. 18 in the final poll. In addition, the Jackets were picked to finish second in the Atlantic Coast Conference by the league’s five head coaches. This is quite a change from last season, which saw Tech win the conference title after being predicted to finish in the league’s cellar.

2003 ACC PRESEASON COACHES POLL1. Florida State (4) 24 points2. GEORGIA TECH (1) 183. North Carolina 144. Virginia 95. Maryland 8First-place votes in parentheses


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