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Leading Off...

Feb. 10, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

There’s a Chinese proverb that says the longest journey starts with the first step.

The Georgia Tech softball team’s journey, which it hopes will result in an ACC three-peat and a trip to Oklahoma City for the World Series, begins today and continues all weekend, when the team participates in the Dot Richardson National Collegiate Invitational Tournament in Clermont, Fla.

The Jackets, who are coming off a 51-11 season, their second in four years under Head Coach Sharon Perkins, and are ranked No. 18/17, open play at 2:30 p.m. against Florida Atlantic, then complete the double-dip against Chattanooga at 5:00 p.m. On Saturday, Tech plays Fordham at 4:00 then Chattanooga at 6:30. They’ll conclude the tournament on Sunday with an 11:00 a.m. tilt against Fordham. (All games will be broadcast and live stats can be found on RamblinWreck.com.).

Tech will look a lot like last season’s team, as only one starter was lost, but that starter was Jen Yee. While it’s a big loss, senior Kristen Adkins believes this year’s unit will continue the roll of recent years.

“We have better chemistry on and off the field than we have had the last few years,” said the senior pitcher, who was 8-2 with a 3.20 ERA last season and enters her final collegiate season with a career 32-9 mark and a 1.89 ERA. “That’s a great starting place for a team with so much talent.”

Adkins, like many on the team still has a bitter taste in her mouth from the way the 2010 season ended, a 4-3, eight-inning loss to the University of Oregon at Mewborn Field.

“Last year I feel like we greatly underachieved,” she said. “So this year, knowing that we’re all on the same page, we’ve all gone out of our way and out of our comfort zones to do things that are going to put us on the next level and get us past that sticking point. I’m excited. It’s going to be a great year.”

Fellow senior Jessica Weaver also is excited about her final go-round and the group with whom she’s making it.

“We really have a great team this year,” said Weaver. “This is probably one of the teams that has the most teamwork involved. I don’t think we’re going to be able to just lean on one person like we have in the past, when we had Jen Yee. It’s going to take more than one person to fill the shoes of a player of her caliber. We’re doing a great job of that right now.”

One player who will be counted on to fill some of the offensive void left by Yee is sophomore pitcher Hope Rush. Rush, the 2010 ACC Freshman of the Year and a third-team All-American, is the ace of a strong pitching staff that includes Adkins and freshman Lindsey Anderson. She’s excited to embark on her second season.

“It’s different this year than last year. Last year I didn’t know what to expect,” said Rush, who, despite the lack of familiarity, managed to go 28-8 with a 1.98 ERA, while holding opponents to a .224 batting average, while batting .302 with 20 homers, including one in her first collegiate at-bat, and 60 RBIs. “This year I kind of know what to expect a little bit and what’s to be expected of the team.

“I haven’t really looked at [last year’s stats],” Rush added. “I just want to get back to the ACC Tournament and get back to the Regionals and then make it to Supers. With stats and all, that will come as we’re successful.”

With back-to-back ACC titles and a third one expected according to conference coaches — at least in the preseason poll — Tech knows the pressure will be on this season. But with 10 upperclassmen and a rich recruiting class, the Jackets are ready to take the best shot of all comers.

“I think that obviously that puts a target on our back,” said versatile junior Shannon Bear, who may get some time at second. “Every team is going to be out to get us but the most important thing is we’re not going to settle. We’re still working hard and still want to get that three-peat. So we’re going out there and working just as hard. Our big thing this year is not to worry about who we’re playing but just always play against our best selves. So if we’re always playing against our best selves we’re always playing our best.”

“There’s always pressure because you know you did it before and I feel like the only way we can go is down because you can’t go any higher,” added junior catcher/left fielder Kate Kuzma. “We’ve already won. We’re definitely not scared, though. I know we lost Jen Yee and but I think that we’ve brought so many people back, so many freshmen who are going to do great things.”

“It’s going to hurt us a little bit losing Jen Yee, losing her bat, of course. She was phenomenal,” agreed Adkins. “At the same time, we have a great new class of freshmen, that are willing to step up and work hard. I just can’t wait to see what happens.”

The wait is almost over.

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