March 9, 2013
By Jon Cooper
History is a great teacher.
No one knows that better than Georgia Tech senior pitcher Hope Rush.
Rush entered this weekend, the opening weekend of ACC play, with a 6-7 record and a 3.66 ERA, eighth in the conference but closer to dropping out of the top 10 than breaking into its top five.
The team also has struggled some, seeing an 8-2 start disintegrate into 11-11.
Still, history has taught the Stockbridge, Ga., native, a former ACC Freshman of the Year, a two-time First-Team All-ACC, and a two-time All-Region performer not to panic. Not with 35 games left to play.
One of two seniors (outfielder Kelly Delashmit is the other), Rush is expected to lead by example and is doing just that.
While keeping calm and fighting through adversity, like injuries — the biggest to second baseman Chelsie Thomas, who started on Saturday after missing eight games, and Alysha Rudnik, who was limited to two pinch-hit appearances over the last four — is tough, Rush kept up a strong front. For her it’s a matter of been there, survived that.
“We’re a really young team and it makes me think back a little bit to my freshman year, how it was a really young team,” she said. “Sophomores, freshmen, they have to learn the ropes. The more you play, the more you see, the better you get. I think it was awesome to see these really good teams early on so that when we play conference, play postseason it won’t be the first time we see the really good teams. I think it was a great learning experience for the whole team.”
Rush gave a clinic in tenacity and mental toughness in a pair of starts.
In the first one, she stopped a season-high six-game losing streak on Feb. 24, in the finale of the Mary Nutter Classic. She won a 1-0 duel against Illinois, allowing Tech, which got out-hit 7-2, to leave the West Coast feeling good.
“Our mindset is to bounce back after that weird, tough weekend and seeing some really tough teams and really good teams,” she said. “We just need to look forward and being successful from here on out.”
Rush followed the Illinois game with a complete-game, nine-inning, midweek victory over Jacksonville State. Rush, who had been 0-for-4 and allowed all seven runs, hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning to snap a 7-7 tie. She then threw a 1-2-3 ninth, her fourth straight scoreless inning, but the only one of the four in which she didn’t pitch out of situations with a runner in scoring position.
Hitting has been more pleasant for Rush and the team.
Rush entered the weekend leading the conference with 26 RBIs (the Jackets had five of the league’s top 10 run-producers), and 15 walks, was second with six homers and 43 total bases, and was third with 22 hits.
Tech entered the weekend leading the ACC in runs scored, hits, doubles, on-base percentage, RBIs, stolen bases and total bases, and was second in in hitting and slugging.
The diverse offensive production was nice to see, especially with teams pitching around Rush and Rudnik, who also was near the top of the ACC in walks, with 13.
“As a team you don’t want to have gaps in your lineup. You want to have the full nine hitting well to the point that if they want to walk somebody, let ’em walk us and then they’ll pay for it with the next person they have to face,” she said. “Everybody in the lineup wants to do something to make them pay for walking.”
The pitching hasn’t been as solid as the Jackets would like. That has forced Rush to come in to relieve in six games. She is not only near the top of the ACC in wins, but also in saves, having closed two games out.
“It’s a different role than what I’ve had in the past,” she said. “I wasn’t used to coming in as much if it wasn’t for the whole game but if that’s the role I have to play then I’m all for it, as long as we get the win.”
Here, again, history comes into play. As a senior she’s just about seen it all. That includes seeing a career starter come out of the bullpen, which she saw as a sophomore, when senior Kristen Adkins did double-duty.
“You see someone go through something, you really don’t understand it but you can watch how people handle things and when you get in the same situation, remember back to a similar situation,” she said. “Take the good from it and do better.”
There’s also the experience of knowing who you’re facing.
“Knowing the competition is important,” she said. “As a freshman I was absolutely oblivious to who we were playing. Then, sophomore year, you know a little more. You don’t have your big freakout moments. Now, as a senior, I have three years experience under my belt. The mental part of my game is so much stronger than it was two or three years ago.”
For this year’s team to bounce back, Rush and the Yellow Jackets need only go back to last season. The team started 6-1 then endured a 2-7 stretch. That team got off the deck and reeled off 12 straight wins and eventually swept through the ACC Tournament.
Rush believes the tough stretch against tough teams this year should pay off similarly.
“It’s a mindset you have to have, playing these better teams, getting prepared for the better teams,” she said. “It was a little rough toward the beginning but we’d rather have the rough part early on versus later on.
“I think this past weekend was a little bit of an eye-opener,” she added. “From here on out, as a team, we’ll have the mindset of take it one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time and go about it that way.”