May 20, 2012
By Jon Cooper
– Georgia Tech Softball’s 2012 season ended Saturday afternoon in a 10-1 loss to the University of South Alabama in the Tuscaloosa Regional.
The ending was uncharacteristically rude as it was the first time in 26 games that the Yellow Jackets scored as few as one run in a game and the first time in 24 games that they’d allowed double-figure runs.
Obviously, there was disappointment at being eliminated.
That disappointment should be short-lived. The team owes itself that.
This wasn’t the powerhouse of years past. This was a team that reinvented itself as necessary, scrapping and clawing for 21 outs a game, longer if necessary.
“We battled all year but when you sit back and you look at it, we did the most with what we had,” said Head Coach Sharon Perkins, who would be deserving of her fourth ACC Coach of the Year Award. “When Hope [Rush] is having to carry really the bulk of the pitching throughout the entire year, by the end of the year you’re just not going to have a whole lot left in the tank.
“I thought Hope really did a great job gutting it out.,” Perkins added. “She threw a lot of innings that she shouldn’t have had to pitch throughout the year due to injuries with Lindsey [Anderson] being out. Kylie [Kleinschmidt], for an incoming freshman and kind of being throw into it — she was kind of a sink-or-swim position — gave the best of what she had. It just didn’t happen the last weekend.”
Rush was on fumes in the third inning in Saturday’s 9-1 win over Tennessee-Martin, keeping the team’s season alive, yet still threw a complete-game four-hitter. She had to be that good as Tech clung to a 3-1 lead until breaking open the game with a six-run seventh.
The Yellow Jackets’ 37-23 final record and ACC Championship was a tribute to this team’s character and special considering the make-up of the team.
“You want to talk about making the most of what we have, we were starting six and seven freshmen and sophomores,” said Perkins. “That’s kind of unheard of to be that successful and win the conference tournament. They just steadily improved. Everybody on the team really continued to improve on a daily basis. We’re a good team.”
Then there was the senior class. The six seniors — Shannon Bear, Danielle Dike, Kate Kuzma, Kelsi Weseman, Caroline Hilton and Jessica Sinclair, who missed the season due to injury — were role models for the young team. They gave their all until the end and that determination was infectious.
“The senior class really set the tone for what we’re all about for our softball program,” said Perkins. “They laid the foundation. We played a really tough schedule, a 21 RPI. That’s no laughing matter. That’s pretty grueling throughout the season. It was a tough non-conference schedule and I was really proud of the team on how they handled that and how they got in there and really went after those top teams.”
The Yellow Jackets used the tough non-conference slate as a launching pad for ACC play. While they had difficulties, primarily due to injury, they got on a roll late, winning 12 straight at one point. Then, as the third-seed, the Jackets turned up the intensity and turned the tables, overpowering Virginia, Florida State and Virginia Tech to win their third Tournament championship in four years.
The seniors, who had talked about wanting to go out with a bang, did just that.
“I thought that they really led by example and kind of took the team on their back and they just kind of ran with it,” said Perkins. “With Kelsi being out a good part of three weeks was a big hit for the team. It was really tough. Once we got Kelsi back we got on a roll. Kate, was kind of the hot bat pretty much all year. I was really proud of them. Danielle was clutch, Caroline came in and made a great play defensively and she had some great at-bats, also. Everybody really did her part. They all had major roles on the team and they all were very successful in those roles. To have four conference rings is pretty awesome.”
As awesome was the way the youngsters came of age.
“Johnsky really came through for us and she made some amazing diving catches out there,” said Perkins. “She wouldn’t have gotten the chance. Sinclair would have been playing every game and we never would have seen that. It’s part of softball and it’s part of sports in general. We are a really versatile team and have a lot of people that can play a lot of different positions and we’re very fortunate for that.”
Freshman second baseman Chelsie Thomas and sophomore shortstop Ashley Thomas made a cohesive unit on the middle infield, while centerfielder Hayley Downs stepped up in center and Alysha Rudnik served notice that she has what it takes to be an ACC Player of the Year candidate, following in the footsteps of Weseman and Jen Yee before her.
Now it’s up to this young class to carry take what they’ve learned to the next level. They’ll be better in 2013 and 2014 from what happened on May 18th and 19th, 2012.
“They’re really good learners,” said Perkins. “Those freshmen and sophomores were a really big part of our success. To see this is what happens. You go through all those tough workouts in the fall and when it comes down to it, this is what it’s all about. You have to keep toughing it out. You have to fight through whatever the situation is and whatever the competition is. That’s what the mentality is.”
Now that they have that mentality down, you can bet they’ll be better prepared to go after it again come next spring, a year older, a year more experienced and a year hungrier.