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Slap Happy

May 4, 2010

By Jon Cooper

There’s a certain stigma attached to being the last hitter in the batting order.

It’s the spot sometimes considered the last safe haven before the lineup turns over.

Georgia Tech’s ninth-place hitter, Christy Jones, understands that thinking but will slap around any opposing team’s pitcher that takes her for granted.

Actually, she’ll slap around any opposing team’s pitcher, period.

“Being a ‘slapper,’ I think people feel like they can get a slapper out easier, especially being in the ninth hole,” said Jones. “But they see [Jen] Yee in the on-deck circle and they want to get that out for sure.”

Thinking past Jones and ahead to Yee hasn’t exactly paid generous dividends this season, as Jones set her single-season high for hits (32), and her next run scored will match her career-best (she scored 30 runs last year). In ACC play, Jones is hitting .327, ninth in the entire conference, with a .346 on-base percentage.

But discrediting pitchers for disrespecting Jones really does a disservice to the plucky Wichita, Kansas, native.

“Christy has been great at being a second lead-off,” said head coach Sharon Perkins. “She seems comfortable where she is in the batting lineup and has been successful getting herself on base. With Jen Yee in the lead-off position and being pitched around and intentionally walked so much it’s nice for Christy to get on base to help put the pressure on the opposing pitcher and defense.”

“Christy has the ability to move base runners (her six sacrifice bunts are second to Kate Kuzma’s 17 SH’s), get herself safe, or hit a game-winning RBI,” Perkins continued. “Not to mention her speed is a threat on the bases.”

Jones recognized what kind of threat she could present and has been determined to follow through.

“When we got into ACC play and people started walking Yee pretty much every at-bat I realized how important it was,” she said. “If I could just get on they weren’t going to let her hit. They’re going to walk her and then we’ve got a runner in scoring position automatically.”

Of course, sometimes, Jones simply chooses not to wait for teams to concede her second base by walking Yee or for someone else to move her around the bases. In those cases, she’s taken a proactive approach, simply stealing the next base. Jones has 10 steals in 11 attempts. Her 10 thefts are second only to Yee’s 21, and are four more than the remainder of the team combined.

Jones hasn’t limited her larceny to the base paths. She’s done as much stealing defensively, taking away her share of opposing hits with stellar play in center field.

The superb defense was just what the doctor ordered and just what Perkins expected heading into the season, when, after two years primarily in left Jones was shifted to center, following the graduation of Blair Shimandle.

“Christy has been doing a great job,” said Perkins,. “I knew she would. We were kind of grooming her for center field. She’s very aggressive, just like Blair was. She’ll run through the wall. She makes spectacular diving catches in games because she works on them every day in practice.”

“I had upperclassmen to look at when I was in left field,” Jones added. “I had Stephanie Butler my freshman year and Blair Shimandle last year. I think being in left field and learning how they take over centerfield, who goes for what ball, how they cover, I’ve just looked at how they’ve done it and it’s really helped me a lot. Getting out there in practice in game-like situations, learning what to do, that’s why we practice.”

Practice has made perfect for Jones, who boasted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in ACC play (16 chances), and is at .939 overall (just three errors in 49 chances, with three assists).

Continued solid defense — Tech’s 19 errors and .968 fielding percentage both rank third in ACC play — is a crucial ingredient in their success as the the Yellow Jackets head into the ACC Tournament (May 14-16), having won an ACC-record 17 consecutive series.

“As a team, we need to continue doing what we’re doing,” she said. “That’s scoring people, getting runners on and making sure that we score them and not just leave them on the bases and continue playing our defense.

“Individually, it’s just not making errors on defense and doing what I need to do at the plate,” she added. “Whether it’s a sacrifice bunt, get on, whatever it needs to be.”


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