April 2, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Georgia Tech softball has a special opportunity tonight.
The team gets a second shot at arch-rival Georgia. First pitch at Jack Turner Stadium in Athens is set for 6:00 p.m.
Not every sport allows for the luxury of a rematch within a season. In fact, as recently as 2010, neither did softball. Prior to the ’10 season, the only way a school could get even with its rival after losing a game was to get them in the second game of a double-header or in the NCAAs. That wasn’t good news if it wasn’t your day.
It wasn’t the Yellow Jackets’ day back on March 13, when the 25th-ranked Bulldogs took home a 14-1 victory at Mewborn Field. The final score wasn’t indicative of the proceedings, as Tech led 1-0 after one inning and the game was tied 1-1 after five. But the Bulldogs pushed across two runs in the sixth then blew the game open with an 11-run seventh.
“It was a good game up until the end,” said freshman outfielder Morgan Taylor, recalling her first taste of the heated rivalry. “The team is going in thinking that we need to stay strong until the finish. We know that we need to start off stronger and we also need to finish strong. So I think we’re prepared for that this time.”
Taylor went 0-for-3 in the first Georgia game, not an uncommon fate for the Yellow Jackets, who managed five hits the entire game, with two of those in the first.
But that was then. Taylor believes the Jackets are capable of rising to the occasion and turning the tables on the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs, who have had the better of the series of late, topping Tech in six of the last seven in the series and three straight times at Turner Stadium (The Jackets are 4-11 in Athens all-time.).
Taylor spoke for fellow freshmen Maddie Lionberger, who played third but didn’t hit, Courtney Ziese, who went 1-for-3 at second base, and Ashley Clifton, who relieved starter Hope Rush and finished up the nightmarish seventh (1.0 inning, 8 runs — all earned — seven hits, two walks), when she said that the Jackets are a different group this time around.
“It’s very emotional just because it’s Georgia and from even the warm-up and the preparation you get all hyped up and pumped up for the game,” she said. “This time, especially for me and the other freshmen, this time we know what to expect playing such a big rival.
“Obviously, there’s still going to be that rivalry there but I think we’ll be able to handle it a little better,” she added. “I don’t think the score of the [earlier] game really matters to us this time. It’s just another game. It’s Georgia so it could come out with a completely different outcome.”
It’s certainly going to be a completely different crowd than the first meeting.
“I’ve never been to UGA but, obviously, being on home turf is an advantage,” Taylor said. “I think it will be an exciting atmosphere. There will be a big crowd but I think we’ll be able to handle it.”
The Jackets come into the game having won three of its last four games and has shown signs of awakening at the plate, as they’ve scored 35 runs in those four games, led by ACC Player of the Week Alysha Rudnik, who was banged up in the first Georgia game.
The Bulldogs have lost three straight, having had one of those weekends last weekend in Fayetteville, Ark., getting swept by unranked Arkansas. Georgia scored a total of six runs in the three games, yet led 2-0 in the series’ first two games and was a pair of four-run innings in each game — the latter in the bottom of the seventh — from winning the series before dropping the nightcap, 8-1. The bad weekend ended a 16-game winning streak, the midpoint of which was the win over Tech.
While the Jackets struggled following the first UGA game, losing four of five — all of them non-conference — and scoring a total of one run in the four losses, Taylor believes there was a silver lining.
“Playing the non-conference teams, even though we haven’t been as successful, definitely has prepared us for ACC play,” she said. “I think our mindset is the same going into each game but we know that the ACC games are more important just for the conference and for the ACC Tournament in the end. The mindset is usually the same, to come out strong but I think the non-conference games have definitely prepared us a lot better for the conference games.”
Taylor sees tonight’s game has added importance — not that that is necessary — with a trip to Blacksburg, Va., and a weekend series with Virginia Tech on the horizon. The Hokies fell from No. 22 to Others Receiving Votes after nearly narrowly avoiding a sweep last weekend at North Carolina.
“It is definitely a different type of game,” she said. “Its going to be good preparation going into our ACC series against Virginia Tech. I think just being excited and pumped up for this game will definitely help us this weekend, lead into the weekend and a great week.”