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Never Too Late

April 22, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

– You get 21 outs in softball.

Georgia Tech is learning that it can be fun to use them all.

They’re even finding creative ways to win. Unlike last season’s team that bludgeoned teams with the long ball, this year’s Yellow Jackets are finding that they can play from behind and win just as efficiently playing small ball if necessary. Tech won in three different ways in last weekend’s series sweep of North Carolina.

In their series opener, the Jackets trailing 4-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh, won on a walk-off three-run jack from first baseman Caitlin Jordan, who was filling in for injured Kristine Priebe. In the nightcap, they trailed 3-1 early, blew open the game with a six-run fourth, using two homers and taking advantage of two errors, then held off the Heels behind the pitching of freshman Lindsey Anderson, who raised her record to 9-0 by throwing 4 2/3 innings of one-run, six-hit relief. Finally, on Sunday, the Jackets walked off using a hit batsman, an infield hit on a bunt and a single by freshman Ashley Thomas to push across the game-winner in the 3-2 win.

“I feel like one through nine, everybody has stepped up and been clutch in some situation throughout the season in different games,” said head coach Sharon Perkins. “It’s nice that anybody can step up and win a game for us. It is nice to be able to drop down a bunt if you need to or hit the long ball.”

“This year, I feel like we’re a lot more of a team,” said Jordan, who homered in four-run sixth in the nightcap, capping a 5-for-7, two-homer day. “Everybody is carrying the team. Not just one or two players. So say one person is having an off-day, we have three more to back her up and pick up the team.”

The Yellow Jackets (37-8, 11-1) head into this weekend’s series with Virginia (21-23, 4-10) with a 17-6 record in games decided by three or fewer runs. At one point in the season they were 3-3 in such games.

“They’ve figured out how to fight. They’ve figured out how to have a tough at-bat, how to make the pitcher throw more pitches, how to fight more pitches off until you get the one that you want,” said Perkins. “I think the biggest thing is we just figured out how to score runners. The first couple of weeks of the year, we’d get people on base, we’d execute the bunt, do all those little things right, but nobody would get the clutch hit to score runs. That’s what we struggled with and we really worked on that in practice. Seeing the runners on base and finding a way to score them.”

The Yellow Jackets also have shown remarkable resilience, as they are 4-4 in games in which they are tied or losing after six innings and twice this season — against N.C. State and at Virginia Tech — left the ball park trailing in suspended games but resumed on Sunday refreshed and with a new attitude, overpowering the Wolfpack and Hokies in the suspended game but winning the regularly scheduled game as well.

The comebacks almost have become second nature to the team.

“We always have determination, we know we need to hit and score first and it would help us out,” Thomas said. “But whenever it gets closer to the end we finally realize we need to do something now or it else it might be too late. I think it’s just our determination to win gets us to finish the game hard the way we have been.”

The Jackets have won 21 straight ACC series dating back to 2008 and are determined to finish strong then pursue their third straight ACC Tournament Championship. These character-builder games should go a long way in mentally toughening them up for that, then ideally get them past the troublesome regional.

Perkins is not concerned about complacency getting in the team’s way, even with their final two weekends coming against the seventh-place Cavaliers and sixth-place Seminoles.

“What we do is just try to get ourselves better,” she said. “Through each at-bat we adjust throughout the at-bat, as a team and individually. We’re just trying to fix some things in our swings that we need to work on, and be solid on defense. Obviously our pitchers are working on what they need to do and not so much what our opponents are doing. I don’t think they tend to look at, ‘Oh we get up for certain games and don’t get up for others.’ We’re not that type of team because on any given day anybody can win. So obviously, our focus is just on us.”

“We’ve won every series so far this year but every game has been close,” added Jordan. “I feel like we can’t take anybody lightly. No one can because anybody can win on any given day. So I feel like we just can’t take anybody lightly. We have to go into it like it’s the last game that we’re going to play.”

Perkins would be fine if they would simply be the last one-run game that they play, but knows that’s not going to happen as postseason competition beckons.

“I wish the games wouldn’t be so close,” she said. “But I’d rather come out on the winning end if it’s going to be a close game.”

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