March 18, 2013
By Jon Cooper
There’s more than a grain of truth to the idea in softball (and baseball) circles that success breeds success. Basically, the belief is that hitting is contagious.
Get one bat going and others seem to follow suit.
That being the case, there’s no one player a head coach wants to see spreading the hitting germ than the leadoff hitter. There’s no denying the impact a good leadoff hitter can have on a lineup.
Georgia Tech Softball will attest to that, as it boasts one of the best in the ACC thus far this season in shortstop Ashley Thomas.
Heading into today’s midweek double-header with Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and tomorrow’s game with Southeast Missouri State (first pitch both days is set for 3 p.m.), Thomas is having a junior year to remember. She’s leading the ACC in hits (36), runs scored (28), triples (3), stolen bases (17), and plate appearances (103), is second in the league in batting average (.424), and doubles (seven), and is third in on-base percentage (.520).
With Thomas doing as well as she has leading off, it’s little wonder how the rest of Tech’s offense is doing.
The Yellow Jackets lead the ACC in on-base percentage (.406), runs scored (155), hits (211), RBIs (141), doubles (39), total bases (323) and stolen bases (42) and are second in batting average (.305).
Thomas sites no big plan for her success — simply following one plan.
“This year I’m just trying to be even more consistent than I have been,” said Thomas, who came into the season with a career .299 average. “I’ve had two successful years but, really, what I’m focusing on is being consistent and to do that I’m trying to have an approach at the plate and stick to it.
“I’m just trying to get on base,” she added. “That’s my job as a leadoff. I’m really happy with how I’ve started so far and I just want to stay consistent throughout the year for my team.”
Assistant coach and former Jackets shortstop and leadoff hitter Aileen Morales says there’s a lot to like in Thomas’ game.
“Ashley is a three-tool player at the plate, being able to bunt, slap and now hit for power,” said Morales, a former All-American and All-ACC shortstop, who finished her career as the school’s all-time leader in stolen bases (173), runs (216, she’s now second) and second in hits (261, now third). “She’s becomes a triple-threat, which causes havoc on the defense. That’s the ideal leadoff batter. She’s a great player who has so many tools. So I have nothing but good things to say about her and the way that she’s set the table for our team.”
Thomas has been very consistent as far as getting on base, having reached base in all 26 of the Jackets’ games this season and she has a hit in all but the first game. That kind of table-setting makes the hitters in the middle of the order very happy.
“I couldn’t be more proud of her,” said junior Alysha Rudnik, who is third in the ACC, right behind Thomas, with a .394 batting average, and whose 24 RBIs are second on the team (behind team- and ACC-leader Hope Rush) and fourth in the conference. “I wouldn’t expect anything else because she’s so athletic, she’s so talented and she’s just having fun with it. She’s doing her thing and she’s doing so well. I’m excited because she’s such a spark in our lineup, leading us off. You couldn’t ask for anything better. She gets on base. She’s always on base.”
Which base depends on where Thomas stops her at-bat and who’s up, because Thomas is never standing still for long.
“With her, a single is just as good as a double and if she hits a double it’s as good as a triple,” said Morales. “I think that offensively she compares to Caitlin (Lever), with all the tools she has. Caitlin had a great career at Tech. Hopefully we can get some of that out of Ashley as well. She’s done such a great job so far this year. I don’t think you’re comparing me and her is fair because she has so many more tools than I did. She’s a special player.”
Whether Thomas finishes as special as Lever, a First-Team All-American (2007), a three-time All-ACC performer and the school’s fourth-best career hitter (.377) and fifth-best career base stealer (71), is yet to be seen.
For now, the Jackets’ plan is for Thomas to continue to get on base. Her role is to simply stick to that plan.
That’s something she’s shown she’s good at.
“I’ve just been trying to have a plan at the plate and commit to it,” Thomas said. “I guess, with the different things I can do up at bat, it makes it a little easier. Just being more consistent, having an approach and sticking to it.”