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Peer Pressure

Feb. 3, 2012

By Jon Cooper | Sting Daily

When Georgia Tech softball takes the field next week to open its 2012 season, the team will once again have a little extra piece of flair affixed to the back of its jerseys. It’s a big round target — the same one they’ve worn each of the last three seasons.

In what is becoming a rite of spring, ACC coaches have voted the Yellow Jackets No. 1 in their preseason poll.

In what also is becoming a rite of spring, head coach Sharon Perkins’ response is in the same measured tone she’s used the last two years.

“It’s an honor to be voted that by your peers, that they see that in your team. That’s exciting to see,” Perkins said. “But the truth of the matter is we still have to go out and prove it every weekend.

“You have to keep moving forward,” she added. “You can’t take a day off, you can’t slack. You still have to keep improving because everybody’s going to be gunning for you. So it’s nice to know that’s where other people see you.”

The Yellow Jackets, who begin 2012 ranked as high as No. 23 in the USA Softball/ESPN poll (they’re among those receiving votes in the NFCA/USA Today poll), finished with a total of 46 points, three more than runner-up North Carolina and seven more than third-place Florida State.

Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own teams, and Perkins voted UNC second, giving the Tar Heels one of their two first-place votes. The Seminoles also garnered a first-place vote.

“They’re strong. They have strong pitching,” said Perkins of the Tar Heels, who finished second in last season’s ACC standings, with a 13-7 record, five games behind Tech. “They still have a strong pitcher on their staff (sophomore Lori Spingola, who led the ACC with 27 wins — she was 27-16 — and was second with a 1.73 ERA to Tech’s Kristen Adkins). A lot of times a strong pitcher will beat good hitting. So I think anytime that somebody has a pitcher like that they have a good chance. I respect Coach Papa. I think she’s a great coach and does a great job and they’re fun to watch, too.”

The final voting being as close as it was suggests that the entire ACC should be fun to watch in 2012.

“I think everybody’s getting stronger,” Perkins said. “If you can get a solid pitcher on your squad you really have a chance to win a lot of games. That’s kind of the name of the game and then you complement that with some speed and a little bit of power and you’ve got a good chance to put some runs on the board. So there are a lot of teams in our league that have those things that you need to have.”

Perkins believes Tech has gotten stronger from last year.

“I feel like one through nine we have a stronger lineup,” she said. “I’m really excited about having Hope [Rush] back pitching-wise. I think she’ll really set the tone for the team and just the all-around team chemistry is more improved than we’ve had in the past. They’ve really been fun to practice with and I’m really excited to get the season going and see how they produce in games.”

The fact that Maryland, which won 40 games last season, was third in the conference and made it to the NCAA Tournament, couldn’t get higher than fifth shows the balance throughout the conference. Virginia, which leapt up and bit the Jackets in the first round of last years ACC Tournament, are one vote ahead of the Terrapins in fourth place.

Perkins accepts the tip of the cap from of the rest of the conference but knows just how anxious the teams are to knock that hat off, using the preseason poll as a motivating tool.

She knows how that works, having done so in 2007, her initial one at Tech. That year the team was picked sixth in the preseason poll. The team went on to win a school-record 54 games then got to the championship game of the ACC Tournament before falling, 2-0, to Virginia Tech.

“I was shocked [by the poll] because I saw who we had on the team,” she recalled. “We ended up finishing runner up and in the conference tournament. That was when Virginia Tech had [Angela] Tincher and she was a stud pitcher. So we had a chance to win the league and we were initially picked to finish sixth. It kind of fires you up.

“Everybody still has to go and prove it day in and day out and then you still have the tournament,” she added. “So everybody has equal opportunity. It’s what you do with it.”


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