May 17, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
These bus rides are getting to be familiar, but there was no way to be ready Sunday as another band of Yellow Jackets rolled merrily through the North Carolina night while an inquirer dialed in via technology.
Georgia Tech’s softball team was gathering near a satellite TV in the coach ferrying them to Atlanta from the ACC Tournament at Virginia Tech when a listener detected through his cell phone some sort of ruckus on board – girls will be girls, after all – and then: “WAHHHHHHHHHHMPT!”
One very, very loud bus horn caused the caller’s phone to vibrate in Atlanta. “Sorry about that,” the Jackets’ traveling press secretary said. “We almost got cut off by a Tar Heel. Here’s Hope.”
Well, not exactly.
Tech’s softball team has allowed no hope nor quarter to its ACC sisters the past two seasons, winning the regular season and tournament titles each time and not bothering to honk on the way. The Jackets are flattening folks, outscoring the ACC 24-4 in three tournament games this season and 24-5 last year.
Sunday’s 8-4 win over Florida State, in which Kate Kuzma’s three-run home run was the most telling blow, was different only in that somebody else scored. Tech won its first two games 8-0, and on Saturday left ACC Pitcher Of The Year Danielle Spaulding of UNC with a forehead tattoo that read: “8 ER.”
Tech was 19-2 in ACC regular season play, scored 112 more runs than any other ACC team, hit 112 home runs to No. 2 North Carolina’s 63, had the top three HR hitters and top four RBI producers in the conference and is 36-5 in these two ACC seasons, 42-5 counting tournaments.
The Corleones were more gracious to other mafia siblings than the Jackets are to the ACC.
No wonder that satellite TV brought good news; for the second straight spring, Tech next weekend will host an NCAA regional. Auburn, Jacksonville State and Oregon will visit the No. 8 seed in the nation.
ACC Freshman Of The Year Hope Rush (28-6), who picked up Sunday’s win with six innings of work one day after her third no-hitter (and second against UNC), was not surprised by the apparent ease of it. “No, not at all because we have a great team,” Rush said from the bus hours after being named tournament MVP before explaining that she strongly prefers bus rides to plane trips.
Here’s an example of what Rush was saying: Jen Yee, a strong candidate for national player of the year, went hitless in the first two games of the ACCs and although she had two hits Sunday, she didn’t make the All-Tournament team. Yet Tech rolled.
Make that steam-rolled, actually, because players like Rush, who struggled offensively late in the regular season, had five hits in three games, and players like Kuzma – the catcher/outfielder who Perkins said, “We usually just ask to bunt Yee over,” — appear ascendant.
Kuzma made the Seminoles regret intentionally walking Yee in the second inning when her ninth home run of the season staked Tech to a 3-0 lead that grew to 8-0 before FSU solved Rush and scored four in the sixth inning. Kristen Adkins, who won the first game in Blacksburg Friday against Boston College, pitched a scoreless seventh Sunday to secure the win.
It’s difficult to miss similarities between last season, when the Jackets (48-9) set a slew of school records and hosted an NCAA regional and Super Regional for the first time in program history, and this.
Late last spring, Alabama came to Atlanta and ripped the Jackets 8-0 and 10-0. Tech won 11 straight from there, including sweeps in the ACC tournament and the NCAA regional before dropping two straight to eventual national champion Washington.
A few weeks ago, Alabama did it again, trucking the Jackets 13-1 in Tuscaloosa. Perhaps some good has come, and will continue to, out of that loss to the Crimson Tide.
Here’s Hope on that: “I think it brought us back to reality, made us work harder and remember that winning the ACC is just one of our goals.”