April 9, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Tonight: Georgia Tech (18-21, 5-4, ACC) at Mercer (22-23, 10-8, Atlantic Sun), 6:00 p.m.
If every season has its own personality then why can’t a quarter-season?
Georgia Tech softball coach Sharon Perkinscertainly doesn’t see why it can’t and it can’t start soon enough for her Yellow Jackets, who take on Mercer tonight at Sikes Field in Macon.
In fact, the start of a new attitude begins with a new and a better start.
“We need to come out ready to play,” said Perkins, who starts play tonight two games under .500 and is staring down having her first losing season in her seven seasons on the Flats. “I don’t feel like we’ve been doing that as much this year. We need to make sure our focus is in the right place and do our job to get our leadoffs on and move them around and find a way to put runs up every inning.”
The Yellow Jackets have been outscored better than 2:1 in the first inning this season and have been outscored in the crucial first and second inning (30-20) as well as in the sixth (37-26) and seventh (36-21). That playing uphill hasn’t been good for the Jackets, who are 6-11 when opponents score in the first and 7-16 when the opposition scores first.
Perkins is putting it on the pitchers to start the turnaround.
“It has to start in the circle. We have not been very consistent pitching-wise and that will hurt you,” she said. “If you come out and you give up free base runners then teams are going to take advantage of it. You can’t play at this level and give up walk, walk, walk and grand slam. You just can’t do it.
“We need to be tougher in the circle,” she added. “We have to know when to throw the strikes and know when to try to get them to chase and pitch around. We need to do a better job attacking batters overall.”
In the Jackets’ current four-game losing streak they have allowed their opponent to score first in all four games and in two of the games allowed multi-run innings, including a 12-run outburst in Georgia.
Not scoring in the first inning is surprising considering they have one of the most unique and diversified lead-off hitters in the ACC in Ashley Thomas, who leads the ACC in hitting at .423 and hits (55), and is second in the conference in on-base percentage at .510 and runs scored, with 41.
“She’s been amazing,” said Perkins. “For her to hit out of the leadoff spot, she’ll drop a bunt, she’ll get us started with a slap, she’ll get up in RBI situations and hit the ball to the fence. She’s just an amazing player. She plays hard every time she’s out there. So for her to have the mentality of the leadoff position and have that under control, not everybody has a player like that. So we want people to jump on board with her and fight hard like she is.”
Some of that fight was displayed in the Sunday series finale at Virginia Tech, where the Jackets chalked up a 10-4 win, courtesy of a pair of Hope Rush homers, a three-run blast by Caitlyn Coffey, and another blast by Courtney Ziese.
“It was a big win,” said Perkins. “For a team to beat you pretty good twice in one day and you have to come back and have to face the same pitching and us have to go through three pitchers in one game, that’s props to us on having a good game plan at the plate and fighting harder. Hope threw really, really well. She came in, she was focused. She was hitting her spots and was mixing really well. We had some solid defensive plays and we had some people step up and do some things at the plate.”
With 16 games left to play, the Jackets can still make some progress in the ACC. They start the weekend tied for third with Maryland at 5-4, behind first-place Florida State (11-2) and second-place North Carolina (9-3) and play all three teams, with Maryland next week and Florida State in three weeks, at home, and UNC at Chapel Hill sandwiched between them.
So there is time to make something happen. The team needs to make it happen.
“We need to just keep fighting to put wins up there,” said Perkins. “We’ve been battling some crazy injuries all year long and that’s part of what’s put us in this predicament. All we can do is just battle through each game and take each game at a time, whether it’s conference or non-conference. Each game for us the rest of the year is important so we can try to get to postseason.
“It’s going to be all whatever this team wants to fight for, wants to believe in,” she added. “If they want to buy in then we’ll still end up having a successful year. This team is capable of being successful if they’re going to fight hard, play hard and play tighter and want to be successful.”