May 9, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
As the softball season approached, there were easy defaults for those interested in prognosticating about Georgia Tech: the Yellow Jackets would be hard pressed to replace the offense of national player of the year finalist Jen Yee.
Coach Sharon Perkins surprised none when she said it would have to be a joint effort. It has been. The Jackets have, in fact, largely out-performed last year’s squad offensively on the way to their third straight ACC regular season title. Tech leads the ACC in nearly every meaningful offensive category, and ranks highly nationally in several. Here’s a kicker:
Where it looked unlikely that any one player would mimic Yee – she batted a school-record .568 (237 points higher than any teammate) with 29 home runs (school record), 88 walks (school record), 93 runs (school record), 63 RBI (No. 4 in school history), an on-base percentage of .732, and a 1.270 slugging percentage – junior shortstop Kelis Weseman has made a run at it.
While Tech (44-9, 18-2 ACC) tries to make it three straight conference tournament titles this weekend as the ACC softball tournament comes to The Flats for the first time, Weseman is chasing Yee in terms of domination and in a few categories.
She leads the ACC with:
# a .445 batting average;
# 21 home runs (equaling her freshman and sophomore seasons combined, and third-most in school history);
# 62 RBI (tied for fifth most in Tech history);
# 51 runs scored;
# 17 doubles;
# 151 total bases;
# .560 on-base percentage; and . . .
# a 1.034 slugging percentage.
Surprised? Weseman said she is, at least a little.
“I never really thought of myself as a power hitter,” she said. “I’ve mostly just tried to hit doubles and some of them have carried over the fence. I’ve just been better at [swinging at pitches that I can drive instead of swinging at pitches I can hit but not as well.
“I’ve had trouble swinging at first pitches previously. That’s definitely something [coach Sharon Perkins] has been trying to work with me on since freshman year, making sure that I’m comfortable hitting anywhere in the count.”
Beyond the loss of Yee to graduation, the Jackets have adapted as sophomore pitcher/designated player Hope Rush has been intermittently bothered by ailments not publicly detailed.
She was on the preseason USA player of the year watch list, but of late has been replaced by red-hot Caitlin Jordan (.413 BA) as designated player. Rush (12-4) took the loss as a pitcher Sunday against Florida State after Kristen Adkins (20-5) and freshman Lindsey Anderson (12-0) picked up wins Saturday.
That’s how much depth the Jackets have. Perkins can afford to play whomever gets hot. Junior outfielder Shannon Bear suffered a minor hand injury against Georgia a few weeks ago, and although she’s having a career year, freshman Hayley Downs and has been hot enough to limit Bear’s playing time.
Freshman Ashley Thomas has replaced Yee at second base with a .326 batting average and 27 stolen bases, and freshman third baseman Alysha Rudnik is second in the ACC with 16 home runs (teammate Kristine Priebe is third, with 13), and so on.
“I wouldn’t say it was pressure because we really couldn’t replace [Yee],” Weseman said. “We were just trying to come together as a team with the bats.”
Tech leads the conference with a .333 batting average; Florida State is second at .286. Tech has hit a league-leading 99 home runs. Next up is N.C. State with 57. Get the picture?
With the prospect of three games this weekend, the NCAA regionals a week later, and hopefully a super regional and the College World Series after that, Weseman may have time to make a dent in some of Yee’s marks, and the Jackets have a shot at going further than ever (to the Super Regionals in ’09).