March 12, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Some days are harder than others for student-athletes to include the student part of their day.
For members of the Georgia Tech softball team today is one of those days, as it’s the day of the Georgia game.
Sure, the players will go to class like any other day, but once they’re there, it wouldn’t be surprising if their minds wander elsewhere, like to Mewborn Field, where the first pitch tonight will be thrown at 7:00 p.m.
“The whole day I’m just amped up and ready to go,” said junior catcher/third baseman Alysha Rudnik. “Talking to everyone on the team I’m just, ‘Hey, it’s the Georgia game. Nothing else matters.’ I go to class, but really the Georgia game is on my mind the whole day.”
Junior shortstop Ashley Thomasagreed that it can be hard to concentrate while in class.
“I want to say no, but I think it might be a little tough,” she said, with a laugh. “That’s all I’m going to be thinking about. Luckily, I have no tests that day, no quizzes. So I’m good to go.”
The Yellow Jackets (13-12, 2-1), for the most part, are good to go and are feeling better about themselves following a successful opening weekend in ACC play in which they took two of three at Virginia, twice beating nemesis Melanie Mitchell.
“She’s a really good pitcher but we did well against her,” said Thomas, Tech’s lead-off hitter, who went 6-for-10 with two walks, scoring five runs and driving in two more for the weekend. “I was really happy with our at-bats. We had a smart approach towards her and in the end it made us very successful.”
“It was good to see everyone back and playing,” agreed Rudnik, who returned to the lineup at first base against UVA. “We’ve had a couple of injuries and not everyone’s back to 100 percent but I liked our fight. We owed Virginia from last year. So I liked how confident everyone was. It was good to see.”
Neither Rudnik nor Thomas will say it’s good to see their arch rival, the No. 24 Bulldogs (17-7), but, as competitors, both will admit that getting together on the field is fun.
“I am SO excited,” said Rudnik. “It’s going to be awesome. I’m so pumped.”
“I am so looking forward to this game,” agreed Thomas. “It’s always such an intense game. I love the rowdy crowd that we get. I just love everything about it, both teams going their hardest and competing. I’m really, really excited to see our team compete against UGA. It’s a rival game. Just the intensity and having that crowd, it’s going to be really, really exciting. I’m really excited for our new girls, our freshmen, to experience it. I think they’re going to love the intensity.”
That level of intensity may catch some of them by surprise the first time they see it.
Rudnik grew up in Lawrenceville, and attended Buford High School but admitted being surprised by just HOW intense the rivalry was. It took playing a game to really get it.
“Going into the Georgia game, I think most freshman are like, ‘Hmmm. What’s this going to be like?'” she said. “After the game, it clicks and they’re like, ‘Okay. I understand now.’ That’s how it was for me. I was like, ‘Is it REALLY that big of a game?’ and then after the game I understood. It made complete sense to me, the rivalry, ‘To hell with Georgia Week.'”
Thomas, like four of the team’s five freshmen, came from out of state. She, too, didn’t require much exposure to understand.
“Coming in here I was out of state and didn’t really understand the rivalry or how crazy it got,” said the McKinney, Texas, native. “But after my first game playing against UGA I quickly realized it was an intense environment and both teams go at each other. So I definitely think that day or shortly after the game or during the game they’re going to get a taste of the rivalry.”
The Jackets trail in the overall series, 20-10, but are 5-5 in the Sharon Perkins Era (Perkins came over to Tech after six years as an assistant at UGA). They snapped a five-game series losing streak last March 14, taking a dramatic 2-0 victory over No. 8 Georgia at Mewborn Field. Hope Rush threw a complete-game, two-hitter, while the Jackets, who managed one hit all night, scratched out two unearned runs in the sixth. The go-ahead run came in on a throwing error on a Thomas sacrifice bunt, which allowed Chelsie Thomasto score from first. It gave the Jackets their first win over UGA at Mewborn Field and first in the series since April 9, 2008.
While the Bulldogs come in having won seven straight and 9-of-10 since going 1-4 at the Mary Nutter Classic — coincidentally Tech’s record at that event — streaks and records can pretty much be thrown out the window when these teams meet up.
The one thing that can be counted on is a nail-biter. That has been the norm in this series, as in the Perkins Era, nine of the 10 meetings between the schools have been decided by three-or-fewer runs, seven of those one- or two-run games.
“With any good competition you can expect anything to happen, but especially against Georgia because both of us want to beat each other so bad. Both of us are going to be giving it our all,” said Thomas. “With softball in general, it’s a toss-up. Any day anybody can win. Since both teams are going to be hard at each other, anything can happen.”