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Jess Win, Baby!

April 7, 2010

by Jon Cooper, Associate Editor

ATLANTA — Every successful pitching staff has a Jessica Coan.

She’s not the hot, new, phenom. Nor is she the trusty veteran expected to produce big things.

She’s the other one, the one that everyone knew had the talent, the one who slowly but surely came along, all the while observing and adapting — even though it meant taking some lumps along the way. Next thing you know, she’s reeled off seven straight wins to start the season, and has won eight of her first nine decisions.

“Last year I ended the season pitching pretty well,” said the Duluth, Ga. native, who starred in the ACC Tournament semifinals against Virginia Tech (6 2/3 shutout innings of relief), then went 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA at the NCAA Atlanta Regional (both wins came against Boston University) before eventually succumbing to eventual National Champion, Washington in the Super Regionals. “Feeding off of that definitely helped my confidence. Just knowing that I already have a year under my belt and that going in I’ve faced these hitters for a year.

“Also knowing that the team that I have behind me boosts my confidence,” she continued. “I knowing that even if I do make a mistake and hang a pitch, and they happen to score a couple of runs, my offense is going to turn right around and score a couple more runs. It’s awesome.”

Coan has been awesome herself, thank you.

Heading into the weekend series at Virginia (which is 6-1, second in the ACC behind 8-1 Georgia Tech), Coan finds herself at 8-1, with a 2.45 ERA, while holding opposing hitters to a .172 batting average (fourth in the conference). This is the same pitcher who as a freshman produced a solid 8-5 record, while pitching to with a 3.42 ERA and an.228 opposing batting average?

Actually, yes, but she’s wiser and looking like her old self.

For those who may be unfamiliar, the old Coan was named 2007 Georgia Female Athlete of the Year and Atlanta Journal-Constitution Pitcher of the Year. She’s the one who in her career at Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross, struck out 1,743 in 916 2/3 innings while pitching to a 0.34 ERA and winning 106 games and pitching 70 shutouts.

“I think my biggest improvement has been learning that I can’t hang those balls over the plate,” she said. “If you hang those balls over the plate they’re going to get hit. So pitching against the caliber of hitters that we pitch against, you’re going to get hit and you’re going to get runs scored off of you. Just being able to keep your composure and not let that get in your head.”

Besides smart gatekeeping regarding what she lets get into her head, Coan also refused to hang her head no matter how rough things got last year.

“She’s really matured a lot,” said junior catcher Jessica Weaver. “She came in and she struggled a little bit with being a powerhouse in high school, then coming to Tech and playing against Top division I schools and being hit. But she took each game, watched film and worked on her pitches that might not have worked as well for her and made those better and learned every day. She’s ready to pitch whenever she’s called upon.”

The consistency of Coan’s performance despite the inconsistency in when she’s called upon to pitch is something that has impressed Tech Head Coach Sharon Perkins.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get everybody the innings that maybe they deserve, when you have somebody like Hope [Rush] on the team,” said Perkins. “Maybe it’s been tough for her to kind of sit when sometimes she may have pitched. It’s been a little bit tricky finding a place for everybody and trying to keep everybody happy. But we kind of go off of what type of hitting team that we’re facing as to who should pitch. They seem to be ready at any time and they can get warm quick and they come out here and they’re successful when they come in the game.”

Coan isn’t concerned about regularity in getting a turn to pitch. She’ll just continue to ride the team’s hot streak and stoke the flames when her opportunity arises.

“It’s a lot of fun. We all have different pitching styles, different pitching personalities,” she said. “It’s awesome knowing that we have so much depth that at any point we can go in and have that back-up, knowing that if one pitcher is getting hit then we can put in another pitcher with a completely different pitching style and maybe they’ll back them up and do a little bit better.”

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