May 13, 2012
By Jon Cooper
– Georgia Tech Softball is back on top of the ACC.
It was a place many thought they would be heading into the 2012 season as the Yellow Jackets were preseason favorites, yet few believed they still would be following a wild rollercoaster ride of a season.
Fortunately, among those who believed were the players and coaches inside the Jackets’ locker room.
“We wanted to show we’re still the top team in the ACC and I think we did a great job,” said third baseman Kelsi Weseman, named ACC Player of the Year for the second straight season prior to the Tournament. “Our bats got hot right when we needed them to, Hope [Rush] pitched great and we played great defense.
“Going into this Tournament we were the only team that expected us to win so there was no pressure,” she added. “We were the underdog going into everything but the last game. When you’re the underdog nobody expects you to win so you can just get to play and you’ve got nothing to lose.”
“We didn’t have any expectations but we knew we were going to win. We had that mentality the whole time,” added senior Danielle Dike. “There were no expectations because we’d been up and down all season so we were like, ‘Let’s go in have fun and see what we can do with it.'”
Turns out they were able to do a lot.
In three games over the weekend, the third-seeded Jackets, who managed but six runs and 12 hits in an abbreviated two-game series at Anderson Stadium 19 days earlier, against North Carolina, came alive at the plate.
Taking a more aggressive approach, they outscored their opposition 24-6, outhit them 33-9, and batted .398, vs. opponents’ .138. Tech’s lowest single-game output, nine hits against Virginia in Thursday’s opener, matched the Cavs’, Florida State Seminoles’ and Virginia Tech Hokies’ combined hit total. They never trailed at any point in any game and were only tied for a total of three innings and three batters.
If winning is fun, then dominating is really fun and, with the possible exception of a couple of batters in the seventh inning against Virginia, the Yellow Jackets had a ball.
This was a group that meant business, knew how to have fun and knew how to separate the two. The combination led to loose play and an unbeatable unit.
“It’s kind of funny, that’s just kind of how this team plays,” said Head Coach Sharon Perkins. “Especially the last two weeks. School’s out. They just have softball. They’ve had a lot of time to hang out and this iPod karaoke on the bus and dancing in the parking lot, whatever you want to do. They have been really loose and they play really well when they’re relaxed. Whatever the score is, it doesn’t really faze them as long as in their minds they’re having a good time.”
“We’re having so much fun. This has been one of the most fun trips we’ve had,” agreed senior left fielder Shannon Bear. “Everybody is having fun and knowing how to turn that fun into positive energy and take it out onto the field. We get serious when we need to get serious but remember that it’s still softball. It’s still a game we love to play and just have fun with it.”
Adversity was washed away with the next inning.
For example, in the first inning Saturday, Tech loaded the bases with no outs, but couldn’t score against Hoikie’s ace Jasmin Harrell.
There was no panic. Just character. Championship-type character.
“We talked a little bit before the game, we don’t walk away thinking we wished we didn’t have one inning,” said senior Kate Kuzma. “We talked about playing all seven innings. Obviously, that inning didn’t go our way but if we scored four runs, 10 runs or zero runs that inning it didn’t matter because the next inning was what counted.”
That kind of poise began with the senior class, which not-coincidentally, came up huge and came away with it’s third ACC Tournament crown in four years.
Third baseman Kelsi Weseman, the two-time ACC Player of the Year hit .429 (3-for-7), with a homer, two runs scored, and four RBIs. The homer came against Virginia Tech to give the Jackets a 1-0 lead. She also made a huge defensive play to stabilize the seventh inning against Virginia.
Kuzma didn’t take the field, serving as designated player, and hit a blistering .700 (7-for-10), with a homer, four RBIs, and three runs scored. She did it playing with a cracked bone in her wrist.
Bear, who came into the ACCs batting .158, hit .300 (3-for-10), scoring a run in each game and was at the start of key rallies in Friday’s 9-1 rout of second-seeded Florida State and Saturday’s 9-1, five-inning Championship-clincher over Virginia Tech.
Finally, Danielle Dike made the most of her two pinch-hit at-bats in the series, ripping a two-run single on Friday and a two-run double on Saturday.
“All four of them had excellent at-bats. We couldn’t have asked for anything else,” said Perkins. “They all had really clutch at-bats. They’re gamers. They know how to win and they just keep it going for us.”
“Definitely we wanted to go out on top like we’ve been the last three years,” said Weseman. “So I definitely think it was a great motivator.
The seniors set the example and the team followed. Rush battled through the Virginia game, allowing four runs (all in the seventh inning) on five hits with four strikeouts and seven walks. The next two days she allowed a total of one run on four hits (she allowed one run in 19 innings over three starts against the Hokies in 2012). Rush added four hits, two RBIs and a run scored in those final two games. She hit .556 (5-for-9) in the series and was named ACC Tournament MVP for the second time in three years.
“We were hitting the ball really well. We were playing great defense,” said Rush who admitted surprise at winning MVP. “A pitcher can’t be successful, without a great defense. Overall the team as a whole has been going into the tournament everybody had the right frame of mind.”
Playing for each other and enjoying each other was a trademark of this team and explains its success. Kuzma feels it’s going to play a big part down in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
“That last win, everybody contributed and that’s what Georgia Tech Softball is,” she said. “It’s a team effort. We have lots of talented players. It’s definitely going to take an entire team to win games.
“We’ve been feeling good for the past week,” she added. “If ever there’s a time to peak it’s right now and we’re all doing it. The season’s kind of been bittersweet. Obviously, we had some tough losses, some calls didn’t go our way throughout the season but it’s definitely prepared us. If there’s a Softball God he’s taking care of us now in the postseason games.”