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Jan. 27, 2012

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Georgia Tech softball has been the standard for ACC softball in the Sharon Perkins Era. But Perkins knows there’s more for her program to attain.

Recent postseason defeats at the hands of Pac-12 and SEC teams have led to a new mindset around Mewborn Field: “If you can’t beat ’em, play `em until you learn how.”

That’s what the 2012 Yellow Jackets will attempt to do.

Never mind building momentum by kicking around little guys from smaller conferences. This year’s Yellow Jackets will go pitch for pitch with the big girls from Day One, with a non-conference schedule that includes 10 top-25 teams and five more on the fringe of being ranked among the “also receiving votes.” Tech, by the way, is currently in that latter group (they’re 23rd in the ESPN/USA Softball Preseason poll).

“I like to do my RPI in the early season, so that’s what we’ve done,” said Perkins, who brings a 228-85 record (a .728 winning percentage) into her sixth season as Tech’s head coach. “You set out to go to certain tournaments where you know there’s going to be tough competition. When we’re planning these tournaments, a year, a year and a half in advance, you set out and you get into a tournament you don’t really know what five teams are going to play until the schedule comes out. You may have a couple of tough teams, you may have a couple of teams that you should beat and one that’s going to be a toss-up of a game. So you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into.”

The Jackets are going to find out mighty quickly. At their first tournament, the Kajikawa Classic held in Tempe, Ariz., Feb. 10-12, the Jackets will get a look at No. 8 Arizona the first day, see San Diego State, an “also receiving votes” team, the next day, then close out with No. 21 Nebraska.

After a home opener with Furman on Feb. 15, Tech participates in the ACC/SEC/Big 12 Challenge Feb. 17-19 in Auburn, where they’ll play No. 3 Alabama, a Final Four team last season, and No. 5 Oklahoma on the first day. The next day gets easier, as they only have to see No. 11 Oklahoma State — a grudge match, of sorts, as the Cowboys edged them, 2-1 in last year’s NCAA Tournament Knoxville Regional, then close on Sunday with home-standing Auburn, a team “also receiving votes.”

Five days after that Tech travels to Clearwater, Fla., to take part in the NFCA Leadoff Classic. They’ll open with DePaul, an “also receiving votes” team, then see No. 14 Tennessee, the team that beat them 7-0 to knock them out of last year’s NCAAs. That Saturday they’ll see UMass, yet another “also receiving” team and Mississippi State, who’s unranked but SEC battle-tested. They’ll close out the tournament with Illinois State.

“You’re going to have to play the Pac-12 and the SEC in the postseason,” said senior first baseman Caroline Hilton. “You might as well play them during the regular season and help us get prepared for postseason.”

Perkins feels early on is the perfect time to meet these powers.

“There’s no better time to do it than the first couple of weekends,” she said. “Everybody’s just getting out there. So everybody’s going to make some mistakes in the first couple of weeks. People are going to miss signs. People are going to make mistakes. People are going pick bad pitches. People are going to throw the ball down the middle of the plate. It’s all about who takes advantage of it.

“I think it’s a gut check early on the first couple of weekends to face these teams,” she added. “You know what you need to work on and it gives you the rest of the season, until you get to postseason, to build those things, to correct those things. Let’s find out. The sooner the better.”

While Perkins expects to learn about her team, she’s not necessarily willing to accept taking a couple — even one — on the chin.

“I don’t take losses very well,” she said with a laugh. “It is a little bit easier, I guess. I think the reason we set this schedule to play the tougher competition, obviously, is to have a great RPI and to prepare us for postseason and hopefully be sitting in a better seed in postseason. So when you play these high-RPI teams those are the situations you want to be in control of, put yourself more in the driver’s seat of your own destiny.”

That destiny might get a further boost from television as this season Tech will be playing four games that are televised on the ESPN family of networks. ESPN will air the Sunday, April 8 home game against Maryland, and a Monday, April 16 game at Florida State on ESPNU, as well as the April 15 double-header against the Seminoles, which will be on ESPN3.

The combination of headline-grabbing opportunities against some of the nation’s best and camera time on ESPN should help out Tech’s Q Score.

“I can’t tell you how many times I walk around my neighborhood and people who have no idea, they have never been to a softball game, they’re like, ‘Oh, I saw you guys on TV,'” Perkins said. “It’s just kind of funny. So it’s kind of neat. It’s got to be neat for the players.

“We’re excited about it,” she added. “It’s always fun to be on TV and promote Georgia Tech and what we’re all about.”


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