April 6, 2005
Midway through the conference season, Georgia Tech is in first place, how would you rate our performance in conference this year, compared to last?
Coach Ehren Earleywine: Last year we didn’t play as well in conference play as I would have expected. We’re off to a good start this season though, and especially pleased with the three-game sweep of FSU. They generally dominate this league and it was very gratifying to beat them like we did.
As for why we are doing better this season, I’d like to say its due in part to the great job of coaching we’ve done with this group, but the truth is…….we’re just more talented this year. We do the same drills, eat the same food, sleep in the same dorms, and have basically the same game strategy as we did last year. The only variable that’s changed is the personnel.
We lead the ACC in almost every offensive category and defensive category at the midpoint, what do you attribute that to?
Coach Earleywine: Again, the players deserve the credit. We have some good athletes who play the game hard and right. They believe in each other and they believe in the system. They are leading the ACC in almost every category and they should be proud of that; however, not too proud. League play is far from over and we have to continue to address our shortcomings if we want to stay on top. One bad weekend can take a team completely out of the running and we can’t fall victim to that. We’ll have to play our best softball down the stretch if we want to bring home the ACC regular season title.
Grade the team’s performance at this point of the season?
Coach Earleywine: I like what this team has done so far this season. Your talking about a team that returned very few starters from last year’s roster and seven months ago, 18 girls sat in our first team meeting, not knowing who the person sitting next to them was. If you see them now, you’d think they’d been playing together all their lives. They’re like a family now……….dysfunctional, but a family nonetheless.
In that first meeting, the only goal that we set for the fall was to get to know each other and to learn to play together as a team. They’ve done that and they are reaping the benefits of it now. We know we’ll have to play better in the second half of the season to reach our spring goals, but I think they are committed to making whatever adjustments they need to make to get there.
What are some things you look forward to in the second half of the season?
Coach Earleywine: I’m looking forward to a lot of things in the second half. First, I want to see how we perform down the stretch in these ACC series. We have an opportunity to win the league [in the regular season] for the first time ever, and that will be fun to watch, as these weeks ahead unfold.
I’m also looking forward to playing Georgia next week. They’ve broken back into the top 10 this week and are playing great softball right now. I want to see how we stack up with them.
Obviously, you play your regular season to allow yourself the right to play in the post-season. That’s what it’s all about, and in order to have those opportunities, we have to focus on our next game, and not get too far ahead of ourselves. You do that, and you could wind up watching post-season play from your couch.
What are some of the things the team, and staff, can work on as you make the stretch run to post-season play?
Coach Earleywine: First of all, we need to stay healthy. We’ve experienced some injuries here lately that have hurt us. If everyone’s healthy, I think the next thing we have to address is our hitting approach. Smart at bats will be a key factor in how we’ll finish the year. Three things stick out right now in that regard. One, getting good pitches to hit in good hitting counts. Over the weekend at Virginia, we gave at bats away in good hitting counts by swinging at marginal pitches instead of getting something to drive.
Second, just moving the ball when we get two strikes. I really believe that in the women’s game of softball, the team that consistently moves the ball is a team that wins the big games. If we can make two strike adjustments and achieve movement, we have a much better chance of advancing in post-season play.
And last, timely hitting. We have left runner after runner in scoring position, and squandered great opportunities to break games wide open. I’m looking for a couple of hitters to really step up down the stretch and get some big timely hits for us. If, and when that happens, we are extremely hard to beat.
Having said that, we know that pitching and defense wins championships. We will work hard in the weeks ahead to make sure we are in the right places on defense. Our pitchers will have to pitch and not throw. Our defensive communication has to improve as well as our ability to play catch. Making routine plays and not giving away freebies (errors, walks, hit batsmen, and stolen bases) will be crucial for us in the weeks ahead.
Highlights for the 1st half of the season?
Coach Earleywine: As I mentioned before, the cohesiveness of this team has been outstanding and definitely a highlight in my eyes. When you get 18 people pulling on the same rope, you’ve got something. I don’t want to overstate this and portray a team with no riffs. That’s not the case and it never will be. We have problems like anyone else. On the field though, these girls play well together, support one another, and they love a challenge. I can’t ask for more than that.
The FSU series sweep was a highlight. We’ve also won four tournaments this year and on many occasions, showed signs of being very explosive, capable of beating anybody in the country. That’s a big statement, but it’s a true statement. When our ace is on the mound and were healthy, we can beat anyone on any given day. I’m looking forward to seeing how this all unfolds down the stretch. It’s been quite a journey so far and the best is yet to come.