Rivalry Heats Up at NCAA Softball Tournament

May 20, 2004

By Simit Shah

It’s doesn’t matter whether it’s football or bingo, there is no love lost between archrivals Georgia and Georgia Tech. The intense rivalry will take center stage once again as the two schools face off Friday in the NCAA Softball Tournament.

“The rivalry between Georgia and Georgia Tech has obviously been a big thing in every sport, and it’s the same in softball,” noted first-year head coach Ehren Earleywine.

“It can serve as a source of motivation during the regular season, but when it comes playoff time like now, if you need to conjure up emotion through a rivalry, you’re probably playing the wrong sport.”

The postseason has been kind thus far for the Yellow Jackets. Last weekend in Tallahassee, the 24th-ranked Jackets advanced to the ACC championship game, which Florida State won 3-1.

“Yeah, we got second place, but we got second place behind a number four in the nation Florida State team,” Earleywine noted. “We played them two close ball games. That was good momentum coming into this tournament. It could have gone either way, coming down to a hit here or there. It was a real confidence boost for us.”

With a 45-17 record, Tech earned a number three seed, their highest ever, in the double-elimination regional hosted by the University of Georgia. In their first round game against UMass, Tech narrowly edged the Minutewomen 1-0 behind junior pitcher Jessica Sallinger’s two-hit, 11-strikeout performance.

“Thank God we have Sallinger,” said Earleywine. “She was dominant out there and we were able to scratch a run across.”

The victory sets the stage for Friday’s 12:30 p.m. showdown with Georgia at the UGA Softball Complex. The Bulldogs have a decided edge in the overall series, owning an 11-2 advantage. Earlier this season, they downed Tech 4-1 at Glenn Field on March 31. A second game was rained out.

“It always helps to have seen an opposing team’s pitcher or knowing their hitters’ strengths and weaknesses,” Earleywine explained. “Having said that, Georgia knows the same things about us. There’s not going to be any surprises. It’s just going to come down to who plays the best defense and gets timely hits.”

In their first round game, Georgia pitched a combined perfect game, their fifth this season, against Eastern Kentucky en route to a 10-0 victory.

“There’s no question that they are a good team, so we have our work cut out for us,” observed Earleywine. “If Sallinger pitches a good game, and we play good defense, then we can play with anybody.”

While 10th-ranked Georgia poses an imposing challenge, Earleywine points to the amount of experience on his 13-woman squad. This is the third straight NCAA bid for the program, and two years ago the team narrowly missed a World Series berth.

“Anytime you have experience in tournament play, it takes away some of the jitters since you’ve been there before,” he said. “For the most part, we’ve got a lot of juniors and seniors, and that experience helps us a great deal.”

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