Sept. 1, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Lisa Norris knows the importance of taking advantage of opportunity when it knocks on your door.
She almost learned the hard way.
Georgia Tech softball’s new pitching coach was home when opportunity knocked but she opened the door then preceded to send its representative — in this case, head doach Sharon Perkins — away.
“I met with [Coach] Perkins while I was out recruiting in Colorado. It was right at the time that I had just gotten fired at NC State,” Norris recalled. “I was talking to her and she was telling me that she had just lost [former Georgia Tech pitching coach] Shaina [Ervin] as well. It didn’t click with me.”
Norris, a 25-year-old Snellville, Ga., native, who’s built an impressive resume — pitching great at North Carolina, veteran professional pitcher, and pitching coach at NC State — didn’t have one of her resumes handy and almost immediately recognized she’d made a mistake by letting an opportunity walk away.
But like any good pitcher, she regrouped, adjusted and made a pitch.
A couple of days later, Norris called Perkins back and expressed interest in the position. She was invited in for an interview and got the job.
A case of all’s well that ends well if ever there was one.
That’s an expression with which Norris can claim familiarity.
She was magnificent at Brookwood High School, going undefeated in two years of conference play, while recording ERAs of 0.15 and 0.11 in her junior and senior seasons, striking out 683 batters in 456 innings.
Yet, despite being a fan of Georgia Tech softball, she eluded the Yellow Jackets’ grasp. Ironically, location, a pitcher’s best friend, was Tech’s worst enemy in trying to recruit Norris.
“I knew I didn’t want to stay in state,” she said. “So it was kind of easier. I was blatantly clear about that one.”
Norris took her powerful right arm to Chapel Hill, where from 2006 through 2009, she became one of the best in North Carolina softball history. She went 73-31 and left UNC as the school’s career saves leader (11), while ranking in the top five in wins (78, third), appearances (136, third), strikeouts (808, third), strikeouts per seven innings (7.92, third), opponents’ batting average (.196, third), starts (98, fourth), innings pitched (714.0, fourth), complete games (71, fourth). She also ranked in the school’s career top 10 in earned run average (1.48, tied for eighth), and complete game shutouts (21, eighth) and threw five no-hitters.
UNC reached the NCAA Tournament all four years she was on the team.
After college, Norris graduated into the pro ranks. joining the Akron Racers. She came in guns blazing, throwing a perfect game in her debut and leading NPF in wins in 2009. The next year she was Pitcher of the Year, again leading the league with 14 wins, while finishing second in ERA (1.73) and strikeouts (126).
In 2011, she was was named pitching coach at NC State and tutored talented pitchers Emily Weiman and Morgan Peeler. She parted ways with State, shortly after the school hired a new head coach, then, after completing the 2012 NPF season, her fourth with the Racers, she met Perkins then was hired by her.
Norris knows Georgia Tech well and while she is impressed with the program’s recent run of success, believes there is more out there for it.
“Awesome, you’ve won the last three out of four ACC Championships,” she said. “But now let’s go win Regionals.
“It’s always a goal to go to Regionals but make it a goal to WIN it,” she continued. “Let’s go on to Super Regionals and keep pushing it that way. They have set a bar now let’s achieve even more. That’s what the goal needs to be.”
Norris is counting on her experience and success in the NPF to give her added credibility in trying to improve the Jackets’ pitchers.
“I’ve been in the pro leagues for four years, I’m playing against the top pitchers, Cat Osterman, Monica Abbott, Jennie Finch, I’ve played against them. I’ve learned from them,” she said. “I think it helps me as a pitching coach as well. So hopefully my having that knowledge, the girls here can trust me enough so I can actually show them what I’ve learned and help them get better.
“The last few years, with the pitching staff I’ve heard it’s a big mental thing,” she added. “They don’t think they can do it. So hopefully in that aspect I can help them as well.”
She knows that cupboard is well-stocked and admitted she couldn’t wait to start fall practice. That began Thursday.
“I have seen Hope Rush since she was a freshman and seeing the rest of the staff, I was really impressed with them, with Kylie [Kleinschmidt] coming in as a freshman last year and doing her job,” she said, “I’m excited to work with them and to see them grow and get better and just season them. Let’s see us go further than Regionals and Super Regionals. I’m just hoping to be a part in it that I can actually help them do that.”
The icing on the cake in Mewborn Field and the team’s practice facilities.
“This facility is absolutely beautiful,” she added. “I was here before it was built, I was here when it got built. But seeing it here and actually being here, I love it. Having the indoor when we need it, having the outdoor, everything, it’s perfect.”