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#STINGDAILY: Right On Schedule

Feb. 1, 2013

by Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –

There’s an air of confidence surrounding 2013 Georgia Tech Softball.

It’s an air that is so widespread that it’s spreading everywhere, including the schedule page on RamblinWreck.com.

On that page, viewers not only can find the days and times of every game on the Jackets’ 56-game slate and the tentative dates of the ACC Tournament, but also the dates for the NCAA Tournament Regionals, Super Regionals and College World Series even though the only postseason play that is guaranteed is the ACC Tournament.

Listing the NCAA Tournament and the College World Series dates is more than a public service announcement for college softball fans.

It’s a reminder to fans of just how high the team has set its sights heading into the season, which begins a week from today at Mewborn Field, when the Jackets take on Eastern Michigan at 3:00 p.m. then Butler at 5:00.

The team doesn’t need such a reminder.

“I’m super-excited to start playing,” said junior third baseman/catcher Alysha Rudnik, the team’s returning leader in doubles and total bases and a key bat in the middle of the order. “I’m counting down on the calendar for that first game on February 8th.”

That enthusiasm and anticipation for the new season has been contagious since the team started practicing on Jan. 8.

“We look good,” said Head Coach Sharon Perkins, whose team has made six straight NCAA Tournament appearances. “The effort’s been there. They’ve been working hard, I’m seeing some leaders stepping up. Overall the top returners are looking great. They’re kind of taking the reins of leadership and it’s been nice to see. Our underclassmen also are stepping up. So it’s just kind of jumping on board with them.”

Perkins brings a gaudy .710 winning percentage into her seventh season as head coach on The Flats (265-108) as well as plenty of hardware — three ACC titles in four years and three ACC Coach of the Year Awards.

That she doesn’t have four of the latter is primarily because of last season’s inconsistencies. But if 2012 taught Jackets fans and opponents anything, it’s that it’s not where her teams start, but where they finish. Last year’s team endured an early five-game losing streak dragging them back to .500 after a 7-1 start then lost five of six in ACC play that took them out of regular-season title contention and lowered their tournament seed. But once they hit Anderson Stadium in Chapel Hill, they were all business and ran roughshod through the ACC before falling in the NCAA Regionals.

While a fast start matters, Perkins knows it’s not everything.

“Obviously, you try to win every game and you’re always looking to improve each game, each at-bat, each pitch, really,” she said. “But you want to peak at the right time and I think we definitely did peak at the right time last year. We really worked hard. We had to fight back in the conference and ended up really well. Now our goal is to make it further in postseason.”

They’re confident they can have a similar finish while smoothing out some of the early- and mid-season rough spots and advance further in the NCAA Tournament. That hunger is palpable.

“I definitely think it’s stronger this year than it was last year just because we did have such a good streak at the end and we were doing so well,” said Rudnik. “But with that, we feel like there’s more for us. The ACC’s are awesome. I’m not taking anything away from it. But we want to win a Regional and go to Super Regionals.”

Perkins believes that there is such a thing as momentum carry-over but also that with the inevitable roster turnover — Tech saw six key seniors, All-American and two-time ACC Player of the Year Kelsi Weseman, rock Kate Kuzma, clutch players Danielle Dike and Shannon Bear and clubhouse presences Jessica Sinclair and Caroline Hilton graduate — she also feels that every season has its own personality and requires an adjustment period. She feels this team, even with its four new freshmen, has actually sped up the adjustment process.

“[Last year’s ACC Championship] was great but then you have four new faces that come in and don’t really know what it’s all about yet,” she said. “I think they’ve done a good job of buying in right out of the gate. All four of them are all about the team. They’re all about, ‘Hey, what can I do to help?’ So that definitely helps out. I don’t feel like anybody has their own game plan. I feel like everybody’s on the same page and we’re working to get past where we did last year. That’s really been the focus.”

They’ll be focusing on the next game on the schedule, even if fans may be tempted to scroll down and see when they should book tickets to Oklahoma City.

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