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Feb. 11, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Courtney Ziese (pronounced Zee-Zee) will never be accused of not swinging the bat with a purpose.

She swings so hard that it seems more like a grudge.

“I don’t know. I always go up there trying to hit the ball as hard as I can,” she said. ” I just go up there trying to hit it hard.”

Sounds innocent enough, but put yourself in the poor ball’s hide or in the shoes of someone whose job it is to catch the struck ball.

“She hits the ball harder than I’ve seen most people hit the ball and she’s consistent in her at-bats as well,” said shortstop Ashley Thomas. “Every weekend I think she is going to impress everybody with her hitting. She has quality at-bats and she hits the heck out of the ball. She’s just amazing.”

The Yellow Jackets saw the thunder in the Canyon County, Calif., native’s bat in early practices and were immediately thunderstruck.

“She hits the ball like no one I’ve ever seen. It’s fun to watch her in batting practice,” said third baseman/catcher Alysha Rudnik. “I’d say her composure might be one of the best things about her. You look at her and there’s no worry, there’s no anything on her face when she’s playing. She doesn’t look like a freshman. She’s up there, she believes. She’s got the confidence that she’s better than anyone who’s pitching against her and she’s showing it. She hits the ball on anyone. I’m really excited to see how she does.”

There are at least four teams that no longer share that enthusiasm. Eastern Michigan, Butler, Missouri State and Coastal Carolina came into Mewborn Field this past weekend and were relegated to chasing balls hit by Ziese and Co. all over the yard. Tech went 5-0 and outscored its opposition 57-15 despite batting in only 28 innings. Oddly, they still played a pair of one-run games and one of those was a 2-1 affair (they dispatched the team that limited them to two runs, Coastal Carolina, in five-innings the next day).

Ziese finished the weekend hitting .412 (7-for-17), with a hit in each game, and RBIs in three of the five, including her first collegiate homer. The highlight came in the nightcap Saturday, when she went 3-for-4 against Butler, scoring three runs and driving in six RBI more, belting a two-run double and a three-run homer in consecutive innings.

It’s the kind of hitting display she’s been putting on since Tech started its fall scrimmages.

“Courtney has been so impressive this whole fall,” said center fielder Hayley Downs. “She’s the only freshman that I’ve ever seen another team really get excited when they get her out. We played Georgia Southern and she grounded out or she struck out and they all got so excited. That’s a testament to how good and how intimidating she is…and she’s a freshman. She’s been so impressive and she’s hit some balls farther than I’ve ever seen. Her form’s amazing. She’s really exciting to watch.”

Apparently Georgia Tech had a similarly mesmerizing affect on Ziese.

“I came on a [recruiting] visit and I just fell in love with the school,” she said. “I love the whole balance of the good academics and the great athletics. It just felt like the right fit for me.”

She has become a perfect fit in the fourth spot in the batting order, hitting between Rudnik, a 2011 All-ACC first-teamer, and Hope Rush, a two-time All-ACC first-teamer, an NFCA All-Region selection last year and the 2010 ACC Freshman of the Year.

‘It’s really exciting because just a year ago I was watching these girls on TV and looking at film because they’re such great players,” said Ziese. “Now being able to play with them, it’s an honor and I’m really excited to see what happens.”

Defensively, she’s proving valuable as well. She’s splitting time with Rudnik at third and catcher. Those positions belonged to two-time All-American and back-to-back ACC Player of the Year Kelsi Weseman and team-leader and clutch-performer Kate Kuzma. While such responsibility might be overwhelming, especially to a freshman, it’s something Ziese takes in stride.

“I definitely hope I’m able to live up to [Weseman] because she was such a great player,” she said. “Just watching her, I admired her and I just want to be able to work hard just try my best every day to get better and fit in that role.”

Taking things in stride is part of her easy-going nature.

“That definitely took a lot of time and just getting comfortable playing softball,” she said. “Whenever I used to get stressed out or beat myself up it never turned out well so I just tried to stay calm out there and just play the game and slow it down sometimes.”

When she’s not playing third she’ll be catching, basically switching positions with Rudnik. The two have formed a partnership that promises to be beneficial to both players.

“I love it. She’s such a great competitor,” said Rudnik. “We work together hitting, we work together at third base and catching, so we’re competing the whole time but we’re also cheering for each other because if I’m playing third I know she’s catching and vice versa. It’s one of those things where we’re definitely pushing each other.”

Ziese’s fast start has given her a lot to look forward to. She’s already fired up about two weekends from now, when she and the Yellow Jackets travel west to take part in the Mary Nutter Classic. The event is taking place in Cathedral City, Calif., which is approximately 150 miles from her high school and includes Northwestern, Cal, Florida, Oregon State and Illinois.

“I’m really excited for that tournament because a bunch of my family and friends are going to be able to come and watch me,” she said. “I’m excited for them to be able to be out there and also playing such big schools. I’m so excited I can’t even wrap my head around it because it’s going to be such a good time. And everyone’s going to be there watching me.”

Then, there’s the first game with Georgia, taking place at The Mew on March 13.

“I’ve definitely learned about the Georgia rivalry,” she said with a laugh. “I’m excited to play them and ready to take them down.”

She’ll be doing it one big swing at a time.


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