Feb. 5, 2009
Saturday, Feb. 7 at Georgia State: 1:00 and 3:00
Sunday, Feb. 8 at Furman: 1:00 and 3:00
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech opens up the 2009 softball season this weekend at Georgia State and Furman. The Yellow Jackets, who were recently picked to finish second in the ACC, return 11 letterwinners and seven starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament team.
The 2009 Georgia Tech Softball Team enters the season with a lot of experience back and a top freshman class coming in.
2008 began with a top 20 national ranking and high expectations, but numerous injuries to starters and a brutal non-conference schedule had the Yellow Jackets sitting at 10-21 and in last place of the ACC in late March.
The Yellow Jackets rallied to win 13 of 15 and 20 of the final 27 regular season games to get back over .500. This streak included a sweep of Georgia in a doubleheader for the second straight year and ultimately earned the Jackets an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, their seventh straight postseason appearance.
Tech went to Gainesville, Fla., for the NCAA Tournament and was not just happy to be there. The Jackets played national No. 1 seed Florida tough and knocked off regional No. 2 seed South Florida.
That momentum should carry over into 2009 as the Yellow Jackets open up their brand-new, on-campus stadium. With Perkins bringing in another highly-touted freshman class that includes the 2007 Georgia Female Athlete of the Year and Atlanta Journal-Constitution Pitcher of the Year — Jessica Coan — the stage is set for the Yellow Jackets to make a run at another ACC title and beyond.
Q&A With Head Coach Sharon Perkins
How has preseason practice gone so far?
“Offensively, we have done a good job. We are pretty strong at the plate. We are still working on our pitching, but with the addition of Kristen Adkins (sophomore transfer from the University of Florida), that will give us a solid staff.
“Defensively, we are pretty sound. Last year was one of the best defensive teams in school history and we pride ourselves on that. Defense wins championships.”
How is the pitching staff shaping up this year?
“We have four pitchers and they are all going to get a lot of opportunities to throw. Senior Tiffany Johnson has a lot of experience, especially in ACC play. She can carry the workload for the majority of the season. Tiffany had to battle through a lot of injuries last year, but really helped us at the end of the season when we hit our peak. It’s no coincidence that our success last year began when Tiffany came back from her injury.
“Its exciting to have Kristen Adkins transfer in from Florida. She gives us more depth in the rotation and brings a wealth of experience having been a member of the Gator team that went to the College World Series a year ago.
“Stephanie Morris was really solid for us last year until she got injured in early March. She will red-shirt and take this year to recover from surgery.
“Emily Schreck was so valuable last year when we were down to just one scholarship pitcher after Tiffany [Johnson] and Stephanie [Morris] got hurt. She really took a lot off the shoulders of senior Whitney Humphreys and was key for us down the stretch.
“Jessica Coan comes in as a freshman after recording the third-most strikeouts ever in the nation as a high school pitcher. It’s going to be great to have options in the circle this year.
“It’s nice to have that depth in the circle. When playing 65-75 games, you can’t just rely on one pitcher. Pitchers come in with their own injuries from high school and they don’t realize it until college so I think they are already being over-worked. It’s good to have a nice rotation and have the ability to throw in whatever type of pitcher you want.”
After taking a year off to play on the Canadian Olympic team, what can Jen Yee bring back to the team?
“One thing that we were missing last year was someone that you know will get the job done and that person is Jen Yee. With her international experience, she has seen a ton of great pitching. Yee pretty much can hit any pitch so we are definitely excited to have her back. She is a natural leader and her knowledge of the game just rubs off on the rest of the team.
“Just having her presence back in the middle of the lineup should benefit everyone. Pitchers are going to have to throw to someone “
How is the outfield shaping up this year after the graduation of defensive specialist Stephanie Butler?
“Senior Blair Shimandle is moving into centerfield this year after playing in right the past three years. She is our field general and there is not a ball that she does not think she can get to. Blair did not make an error at all last year and has a cannon for an arm.
“Sophomore Christy Jones will play left field again for us. She made unbelievable progress defensively last year and who can forget the diving catch she made against Georgia where her body was completely parallel with the ground. Between junior Kelly Eppinger and freshman Jessica Sinclair, we will be covered in right field and have plenty of solid options off the bench.”
How important is it to have a returning catcher?
“Sophomore Jessica Weaver is back and she got a lot of playing time last year. She works really well with the pitchers and they are comfortable with her, which is extremely important. Her career began with those three home runs in the first few games and she was steady throughout the season.
“Freshman Kate Kuzma will also come in and see a lot of playing time. She has a great bat and demonstrated that in the fall.
“Sophomore Caroline Hilton does a great job working with the pitchers and is a great student of the game.
You certainly have never been afraid to play a grueling non-conference schedule and with half of last year’s World Series field on the schedule, this year is no different. Has your philosophy always been to be the best, you have to beat the best?
“The goal is to be able to play the last weekend of the season and we have been working towards this goal as long as I’ve been on campus. The best way to prepare is through tough competition.
“Last year, it definitely played a role even though we had quite a few injuries. We played a tough schedule and they know that they can play and hang with with those top teams.
“We’ve won and lost some close games with tough teams, so we know at the end of the year that type of competition pays off. We want to play the top teams and show that we can beat them. Even though we finished just one game over .500, having a solid RPI and top 15 strength of schedule really helped us get in the NCAA Tournament.”
Can you build off the success from the second half of last season and carry it into 2009?
“At some point in the middle of last season, they turned things around. They got together as a team and everything just started clicking. Hopefully, we can pick back up where we left off. We’ve had great leadership from our senior class. They are excited and ready for their last season.”
How excited is everyone for the new stadium?
“It’s great for the players. It makes their life a lot easier than having to drive off campus every day for practice and games. It’s a great facility for them and first-class all the way. They deserve it and I hope every former Georgia Tech softball player can come back and enjoy it because this facility is as much for them.
“It will be nice for the fans. It’s centrally located near all of the other athletic facilities and we hope to create one of the best environments in the nation. There won’t be many spots better than a warm spring night watching top-notch collegiate softball and the beautiful Atlanta skyline surrounding us.”
Why should fans come watch your team?
“We work hard and we are definitely exciting to watch. You can see it in practice, warm-up and during the games. This is a great group of kids who help build each other. It is fast-paced and you can see that they genuinely love the game and being out there.”