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#STINGDAILY: Surprise Party

Feb. 21, 2013

by Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –

Watching freshmen come in and contribute is always fun.

Regardless of how much talent and potential a player may bring to campus in reputation, it’s serendipitous to watch that first-year actually make things happen on the collegiate level.

Outfielder Morgan Taylor is a good example. She has been one of Georgia Tech Softball’s pleasant surprises over the season’s first two weekends.

Taylor contributed right away, beginning on Opening Day, when, as the starting left fielder, batting eighth, she went 4-for-4 with a pair of RBIs in a 12-0 thrashing of Eastern Michigan. Of course, simply being on the field was tremendous.

“It was a great feeling,” said Taylor. “To hear my name called out by the announcer to be playing left field, especially my first collegiate game, it just felt like all my hard work was finally paying off.”

The Jacksonville, Fla., native and former Mandarin High School star paid dividends all weekend long, as she finished leading the team in hitting at .583, having scored four runs while driving in three more. She also provided big hits, as her sixth-inning single in the first game Saturday against Missouri State sparked a two-run, game-winning rally. That was one of three decisive multi-run innings in which she took part.

“It went pretty well,” Taylor said about her debut weekend. “Obviously, I was nervous for my first weekend of games but once I got on the field I was just really excited. After the whole weekend I just felt really good about the team and where we’re going to go this year.

Leading the defending ACC Champs in hitting was a bonus.

“I definitely wouldn’t have expected it because we have some really good hitters,” she said. “Everyone on the team is a very strong hitter and we have very strong players like Alysha Rudnik, Hope Rush. I was very surprised.”

To top off the inaugural weekend, during which Jackets went 5-0, Taylor made a tremendous diving catch in the Sunday game against Coastal Carolina, her lone putout of the game.

Achieving so much so soon would put a smile on anyone’s face and Taylor was understandably all smiles on Monday morning.

But for her, the smile is as much a part of her game- and practice-day attire as her uniform, cleats, glove and bat.

“Morgan is a hard-worker and always has a smile on her face,” said Georgia Tech Softball Head Coach Sharon Perkins. “You can literally see her big grin of all teeth through her mask on her helmet. Morgan had a great Opening weekend. For an incoming freshman to step into her first collegiate start and go 4-for-4 is impressive. From RBIs to moving baserunners, she is a team player. She also had a great diving catch in the warning track.”

The catch, on Brooke Donovan’s foul fly with one out in the fourth inning, was caught by a photographer and made the front page of Ramblinwreck.com. Yet another pleasant surprise

“I was actually really surprised,” she said, with a laugh. “My mom had texted me telling me to look on the web site and then I looked and I was just really surprised that they had put my picture up there of me diving for that ball. It made me feel really good. Hopefully there will be a bunch more stories of the team and how successful we are throughout the season on ramblinwreck.”

While Week Two wasn’t as prosperous for Tech, as the Jackets went 3-2 in the Georgia Tech Classic and lost Wednesday night to Mercer, 10-9. Taylor’s average leveled off, as will happen, but still enters this weekend’s play with a .313 batting average, a .389 on-base percentage and a .406 slugging percentage. She has been effective getting on base, as she reached in each of Georgia Tech’s first 10 games — her streak ended Wednesday.

Taylor has put Mercer behind her and is eagerly anticipating this weekend’s action, when she and the Jackets fly to the West Coast to participate in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic at Big League Dreams Sports Park in Cathedral City, Calif. 

The Classic promises to be a tremendous opportunity for the 8-3 Jackets, who will get a taste of what postseason play might be like. Tech opens today at 1:30 p.m. ET (10:30 a.m. local) against Northwestern then takes on No. 8 California at 6:30 p.m. ET. On Saturday, the Jackets will battle No. 5 Florida at 12:30 p.m. then meet Oregon State at 3:00. Tech concludes at noon ET, meeting Illinois. (Fans can follow every game via GameTracker and hear the call on Ramblinwreck.com),

Getting the chance to play Florida is an especially big deal for Taylor. It’s one game she’s circled on the schedule. She’s also circled Tech’s ACC weekend against Florida State (April 27, 28 at Mewborn Field).

“Obviously, growing up and living in Florida, they’re the two big schools,” she said. “I’m so excited to play both teams just because I used to be a Florida fan and I actually know people on both teams. So it’s going to be really exciting getting to play against girls I know along with playing against schools I grew up watching my whole life.”

The Jackets hold 2-1 edges over both Northwestern and Oregon State, have losing records against Cal (0-2) and Florida (1-5), and have split four games with Illinois.

Regardless of the competition, Taylor is intent on continuing to move forward, doing what she has always done and has done thus far. No surprises.

“I just try to take each at-bat, just try to think about the situation, what needs to be done but also try not to think because once you think you get all nervous and get locked up and aren’t able to perform,” she said. “So I try to make each at-bat almost like a challenge. Just to be fun to where I’m not nervous about what the situation is or what the score is or how many out.”

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