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#TGW: Where There's Smoke, There's Kylie

March 14, 2015

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Kylie Kleinschmidt is a do-it-yourselfer.

It’s part of the reason the senior has been right at home as a pitcher for Georgia Tech softball for the last four years.

The Lilburn, Ga., native is making her final season on the Flats her personal “K-Canvas,” especially over her last four starts, during which she’s struck out 45 in 31 ⅓ innings.

“She’s in a zone right now,” said Head Coach Shelly Hoerner. “I’m proud of her. She has that senior mentality. She’s the leader of the pitching staff and I think that’s showing.”

Kleinschmidt, who enters this weekend’s series against the University of Pittsburgh at Mewborn Field (first pitch of Saturday’s doubleheader is at 1 p.m.) with a 3.35 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 62 ⅔ innings over 14 appearances (12 starts), credits her success to simply throwing her game.

“When you throw your pitch the batters are going to swing and they’re going to pop it up to the infield or they’re going swing right through it.” she said.

Unfortunately for Kleinschmidt, while the hitters are swinging through the majority of her pitches — she’s holding opposing hitters to a .208 batting average — she doesn’t have the wins to show for it, carrying a 3-7 record into the weekend.

She’s been especially snakebit in midweek games. Over the last two Tuesdays, Kleinschmidt has pitched back-to-back complete games, allowing five earned runs and 13 hits in 17 ⅓ innings, with 28 strikeouts, yet has two losses to show for her work.

On March 3, at Troy, she threw 10 ⅓ innings and set a school record by striking out 18 Trojans, but lost in the 11th, 4-3. On Wednesday, she threw another complete game against Jacksonville State, allowing two runs and three hits, but was saddled with a 2-1 loss.

“She pitched well enough to win, again,” said Hoerner, following the loss to the Gamecocks “Just like last Tuesday in our midweek game. She pitched well enough to win. We just didn’t do it as a team.”

Of Kleinschmidt’s seven losses six have come by two-or-fewer runs and the Jackets have managed three-or-fewer runs five times. But there are no conspiracy theories or finger-pointing, unless it’s pointing ahead to the next game.

“It’s okay,” she said. “We’ve struggled a little bit this year with [hitting with runners in scoring position] but I have full faith in everyone on this team, one through nine. We’ll be fine.

“I’m just trying to do my job instead of having to rely on other people to do it,” she added. “When I get my job done, when my team does come through I’m being consistent as well.”

Kylie certainly can’t be accused of relying too much on anyone lately, except maybe her catcher, although she’s willing to.

“I can throw the pitch where it’s supposed to go and it’s going to get hit where it’s supposed to and they’re going to field it,” she said. “I have full faith in all eight behind me.”

Getting her teammates involved more might have helped on Wednesday, when Kleinschmidt allowed a first-inning run without the Gamecocks putting a ball into play — three walks and a hit batsman.

But that inning has been the exception. Finding consistency, especially in the first inning, has been the biggest area of improvement since the weekend of Feb. 20, when she was pulled in the first inning of back-to-back starts against St. Mary’s and Savannah State — the latter became historic, as reliever Christina Biggerstaff followed and completed a no-hitter.

“Kylie and I have talked a little bit about just being sharper from the very beginning,” said Hoerner. “Being pinpoint, setting the tone.”

Since those two starts, Kleinschmidt hasn’t thrown fewer than six innings in a start and had improved her command, walking as many as six once, in the marathon at Troy. She credits her work with Assistant Coach Charlotte Morgan.

“We have been working on getting ahead of batters, throwing strikes,” she said. “It’s all Coach Morgan.”

Her improved command has relegated her teammates to relative spectators, but they aren’t complaining. They’re actually enjoying the show.

“I get excited in the outfield,” said senior right fielder Katie Johnsky. “I don’t keep count but it’s always nice when I’m out in the outfield and it’s a strikeout. Even if she doesn’t hear me I’m always out there cheering for her, rooting her on.”

Kleinschmidt may not hear Johnsky, or anyone else for that matter. At times, she doesn’t appear to hear or feel a thing — like in the game at Troy, when she fired an unfathomable 209 pitches.

“It was a close game and I wanted to keep us in it,” she recalled. “I just kept trying to go out there each inning and throw strikes. I was trying not to think about how many pitches I had thrown, otherwise I’d have realized how tired I was.

“I couldn’t tell you the last time I threw 200 pitches. Probably back when I was 16,” she added, with a laugh, “It’s been awhile. I felt it the next day. Putting on a sweatshirt was tiring. So my body can’t do that anymore.”

At the ripe old age of 21 (she turns 22 in April), Kleinschmidt, who graduates in May, is the elder statesman of the staff and has set a great example for freshman pitchers Biggerstaff, and Emily Anderson. Getting them acclimated has been a goal she’s understood as far back as the fall.

“I want to leave an impression on them because they are freshmen and they have three more years here,” she said. “I want them to pick up on the things we do, pick up on how we do things, so they can lead the staff when I’m gone.”

The freshmen are grateful for her leadership.

“She’s been a great leader all year. She has really helped me and `Barbie’ adjust and learn the ropes this year,” said Anderson. “She’s very good at staying positive and keeping us grounded.”

Staying positive and grounded will be important this weekend both for the Jackets, who face Pittsburgh (20-4, 2-1) and Kleinschmidt, who faces a team that ranks in the top five in the ACC in batting average, slugging pct., on base pct., runs scored, hits, RBI, doubles, home runs, total bases, total plate appearances and at-bats.

She’ll also face off — possibly more than once — against senior righty Savannah King (11-2). King, the ACC Pitcher of the Week for the week of Feb. 16, is tied for the eighth in the nation in shutouts (four) and is tied for 12th in victories (11). She also is in the top five in the ACC in ERA (1.58) and total innings pitched (75.1). King, already the Panthers’ all-time leader in appearances (130) can leave Atlanta holding or tying for the program’s all-time mark in wins (her 47 are second by two), and complete games (her 61 are tied for second, one off the lead).

Tech’s ace is not intimidated nor is she concerned with anything other than herself.

“I just have to stay within myself, throw my game, not try to think about what she’s done or who she is,” she said. “I just have to keep throwing my game.”

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