March 2, 2018
The Good Word | by Matt Winkeljohn
Crosby Huckabay blasted Georgia Tech softball’s only home run Wednesday, when the Yellow Jackets used a different formula to dominate Kennesaw State 9-0, and the highlight of the night at Mewborn Field wasn’t her leadoff shot in the fourth inning or any one hit or play.
The great takeaway as Tech (7-6) moved above .500 for the first time since 2014 was that the Jackets did everything so well and this team is evolving quickly under first-year head coach Aileen Morales from the squad that lost its first four games.
Perhaps that’s because they know what’s going on now.
“I think it’s always hard to win right out of the gate, but I think it was especially hard for us because we didn’t know what to expect with the new coaching staff,” said Huckabay, the sophomore third baseman from Chattanooga.
“These past couple games we’ve settled in and meshed, and we all do our jobs. We bring a lot of energy now, which we lacked in the first few games. I think everybody has fun now, which helps get the ball rolling.”
The Jackets are having fun in many ways.
Tech entered the game ranked third among ACC teams in home runs per game and No. 21 nationally with 1.17 home runs per contest after hitting eight bombs in five games last weekend at the Camel Stampede, and then won their fifth straight with small ball overload.
Kennesaw State third-year sophomore Alley Cutting, tabbed Atlantic Sun Conference preseason co-pitcher of the year after last season going 20-10 with a 2.19 ERA, lasted one inning. Her evening finished with the Owls in a 6-0 hole. Last season, she bottled up the Jackets over 12 innings before Tech squeezed out a 2-1 win.
Wednesday, six of Tech’s first seven batters reached base and eventually scored, as Breanna Roper and Rebecca Prairie singled, Katie Krzus walked, Huckabay smoked a mad hopper that KSU’s second baseman couldn’t handle, Draven Sonnon and Lilly Hooper each singled and Roper singled again to give the Jackets a whopping lead.
Then, after Cutting threw 43 pitches in the first inning, Tech senior Emily Anderson (5-3, 1.11 ERA) retired the Owls (4-6) on four pitches in the top of the second. The Jackets added two more runs in the bottom on a night where they would play error-free ball and punish KSU for each of four errors.
Sonnon drove in Huckabay, who’d drawn a walk, with her second single.
This looked a lot like the softball that the Jackets played when Morales was a Jacket from 2005-08, and even when she was a Tech assistant from 2009-13 before serving two years as head coach at Young Harris College and two years as head coach at Radford University.
It just took a couple weeks for this to happen.
“For whatever reason it took us a little while to get going. Now they’re playing with more fire, intensity . . . just really coming out ready to go in the first inning,” Morales said. “Until you get into that game setting . . . where the adrenaline is going and the coach is making changes, substitutions, all those things you really can’t get into the flow of it.
“They finally got to this point where they’re starting to see all their hard work pay off. They’re being a little more selective at the plate, looking for pitches that we can hit as opposed to chasing the pitcher’s pitches.”
Soon after Huckabay sent the first pitch of the fourth inning by Abigail Green over the left-center field fence, she said the Jackets have grown comfortable with Morales’ style and taken her counsel to grow as a team.
“I think after our fourth loss or so, coach Morales told us that, “You have to go out and get a win. The win doesn’t just come to you,’“ she recalled. “I think we took that and it really resonated with us. We can’t just let things happen to us; we have to go make things happen. The first four games we were a completely different team than we are now.”
The future looks bright for Georgia Tech softball heading into the weekend at home with a Friday doubleheader against DePaul, a Saturday doubleheader against Connecticut and a game Sunday against Detroit Mercy.
Three freshmen started Wednesday in right fielder Roper, left fielder Stanford and second baseman Hooper. Stanford leads the team with a .346 batting average. Prairie and Huckabay are sophomores. Krzus, a junior, leads the team with five home runs.
Home runs are really good.
All the contact the Jackets made might be considered even better. Tech had eight hits in just four innings with the team’s third run-rule win in four games. That is likely a more easily repeatable formula than living off the long ball to leave the .500 mark in the rear view mirror and chase bigger numbers.
“We don’t have a ton of speed so we’re going to have to hit to win,” Morales explained. “We had an approach today where each hitter looked for specific pitches that they hit well and they made contact with those.
“I think it’s definitely a big deal . . . it’s important to build on that and carry it into conference play. It’s cool to know we’re making those little steps toward where we want this program to be, but it’s a long season and you can’t dwell on that too long.”