The Good Word |By Matt Winkeljohn
There is a curious case building on The Flats, where Breanna Roper on Wednesday night rapped out three more hits to feed the notion that was just doing what she does. The problem was one little detail that spoils that first-glance narrative about one of the ACC’s top hitters.
Truth is, Georgia Tech’s lead-off hitter in a 4-1 win over Mercer continued doing what she’s been doing this season only because she’s stopped doing what she did last season when she posted a .203 batting average at the bottom of the order.
When you’re hitting .466 with that backdrop, something’s up.
Or maybe out – like all the clutter she flushed from her head.
After her freshman season, a certain kind of hoarder decided to de-clutter her mind.
And now, the Woodstock native is putting aluminum to just about everything. Roper is thinking less at the plate, and whacking more. Way more.
“Last year, I over complicated my approach,” the second baseman said after spraying the ball around Mewborn Field. “This year, I’m just saying ‘see ball, hit ball,’ and if it’s a strike swing as hard as you can.”
So, she’s not grinding pitch patterns nor counts so much. If only life were always so easy.
Suddenly, Roper’s head coach is lumping her name with some of the greatest rippers among Yellow Jackets. Aileen Morales is uniquely positioned to lay praise. She’s played with and been an assistant coach for some of Tech’s all-time chart toppers.
Asked if Roper perhaps applied too much thought to the process of hitting in her first season of college softball for sake of being a freshman, the coach hammered the leading question.
“I think that’s very much . . . everybody who plays at this level wants to be great and when they’re not doing great, it’s like this mind warp,” Morales said after the Jackets moved to 16-10. “I think she just came in [this season] with this mindset I’m going to hit the ball hard and what happens is going to happen.
“I’ve had the opportunity to watch some really good hitters play on this field, Kelsi Weseman, Ashley Thomas, Jen Yee – who’s like light years away from everybody . . . They were really good lefty hitters who could hit with power to all parts of the park . . . she has some of that.”
Roper indeed seems familiar with all parts of parks. Even when the lefty hitter is wrong, she’s frequently right.
Leading off the first inning, she went the opposite way with a single to left center, then stole second base, and scored two outs later when junior right fielder Crosby Huckabay singled.
Sophomore centerfielder Cameron Stanford homered in the second.
Roper led off the third with a rap off the left field fence for her team-leading 11th double of the season, went to third on Katie Krzus’ single to center, and scored soon afterward on a sacrifice fly to center off of Huckabay’s bat. Krzus then scored on Skye Webb’s single.
In the fourth, Breanna drilled a ball over the Mercer first baseman’s head, but the Jackets didn’t score in that inning.
“She worked really hard all summer, all fall to clean up her swing even more and have even less holes . . . she hits it where it’s pitched,” Morales said. “I really think depending on what the pitcher is giving her.”
Roper knows about a twisted path.
She opened the season batting in the No. 6 spot (she hit .203 last season, after all), jumped to No. 2 in the second game, and became the leadoff hitter about two weeks later because she just kept hitting.
It was a funny thing for a player who didn’t hit much last season while playing in 47 games and starting 42, mostly in right field.
“I want whoever is getting on base the most consistently at the top of the lineup,” Morales said. “Really quickly she was hitting the ball, and hitting it well. She was getting hard contact.”
For sure Roper meets the ball (eight strikeouts in 88 at-bats). And she has some wheels (four of five stolen bases). So far, though, she’s not so patient as to be a great earner of bases-on-balls.
Her 11 walks drawn rank fifth on the team, and she has a way to go to reach the status of Yee, who put up ridiculous numbers in 2007, ’09’-’10.
To edify, there may never at Tech again be a Yee.
She had 84 hits in 2010, tied for third-most in Jackets’ history.
Yee also drew 88 walks, 36 more than any other Tech player in any season. Her .722 on-base percentage is likely never to be touched, and her .568 batting average that season far surpassed any other by a Tech player (Weseman, .424 in ’11).
The Jackets are currently content with a Roper, and a lot of teammates who may be poised to turn the program back into a perennial ACC and NCAA contender with this weekend’s home series against Virginia the next chance to prove that.