Softball goes 4-0 to open ‘10, including win over No. 3 UF

The opening weekend of the 2010 season was a record-breaking one for Tech’s softball team. Led by freshman phenom Hope Rush, who pitched two complete-game shutouts and homered in the first plate appearance of her career, the Jackets defeated No. 3 Florida—marking their first-ever win over a top-five opponent—and opened the year 4-0 at the University of South Florida’s Wilson-DeMarini Tournament from Feb. 13-14.

It was a solid start for the Jackets, who were ranked No. 13 in the preseason National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll and predicted to repeat as ACC champions. The tournament was scheduled to begin on Friday, Feb. 12, but rain throughout the day in the Tampa area prevented any Friday games from being played. Tech had been set to face Long Island and then Florida; the Long Island game was cancelled, while the contest with the Gators was postponed to Saturday afternoon.

As a result, Tech opened the season against Canisius on Saturday morning, and the Jackets had little trouble in picking up their first victory of the year. Sophomore Jessica Coan carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning and three Tech players homered as the Jackets rolled to a 9-0 five-inning victory over the Griffins.

Tech took the lead right out of the gate, as Rush, the designated player, hit a two-out, opposite-field two-run homer to deep right in the top of the first. Junior first baseman Kristine Priebe and senior third baseman Kristen Adkins reached scoring position later in the inning but were unable to score, and Tech finished the frame ahead 2-0.

Canisius threatened in the third inning, loading the bases with two outs. Coan, though, induced a flyout to escape the jam, stranding all three runners and escaping with no damage.

The Jackets went on to add seven runs over the next two innings, two in the fourth and five in the fifth. With the bases loaded in the fourth, sophomore right fielder Jessica Sinclair doubled down the left field line. Senior Kelly Eppinger—who pinch-ran for Priebe—and Adkins scored on the hit, but sophomore left fielder Kate Kuzma was thrown out.

Redshirt senior second baseman Jen Yee led off the top of the fifth with a solo home run, increasing the lead to 5-0. After sophomore shortstop Kelsi Weseman was hit by a pitch, Adkins reached on an error and Kuzma drew a walk, Sinclair struck again as she hit a grand slam, bringing her RBI total for the day to six.

With Tech ahead 9-0 after five innings, the mercy rule was invoked and the Jackets won the game.

Coan shut down the Griffins’ lineup, allowing just one hit and three walks while striking out nine. Sinclair’s 2-for-3, six RBI performance powered the offense as the sophomore got off to a big start after struggling from the plate in 2009. As a team, Tech took advantage of every opportunity at the plate, scoring their nine runs on just seven hits and leaving just four runners on base in the game.

The Jackets returned to the field later that afternoon to face No. 3 Florida. In addition to being a battle between top-15 teams, it marked the fifth time the Jackets and Gators had met since the start of the 2007 season, with UF winning all four games over that span. Additionally, two Tech players, Adkins and Priebe, had transferred to Tech from UF.

Tech sent the freshman Rush into the circle to face UF junior Stephanie Brombacher, who had gone 42-0 with a 1.10 ERA in her first two seasons with the Gators. It was Rush, though, who proved to be the star of the game.

The Gators put two runners on base in each of the first two innings, but both times the Jackets were able to escape with no damage. In the top of the second Gator second baseman Aja Paculba hit a line drive up the middle; Rush caught it, then quickly fired to Adkins at third to complete the inning-ending double play.

In the third, UF loaded the bases with one out, but Rush got a strikeout and induced a grounder to third to end the inning, once again with no damage.

Tech was having no success at the plate against UF’s Brombacher, though. After junior center fielder Christy Jones led off the game with a bunt single and stole second, the Jackets were unable to get another hit until the fifth inning. Their only baserunner in that span came in the fourth, when Weseman was hit by a pitch.

In the fifth, Tech finally got on the board. Sinclair doubled with one out, and after freshman designated player Caitlin Jordan grounded out, Kuzma knocked a triple into the right-center gap to plate Sinclair and put Tech ahead 1-0.

The Gators went quietly in the top of the sixth while Tech added two more runs in the bottom half. After Yee hit a lead-off triple, Rush launched a long home run to deep left to increase the Jackets’ lead to 3-0. Rush then retired the side in order in the top of the seventh, striking out two Gator hitters as she finished the complete-game shutout and handed Brombacher her first career loss.

The victory over the No. 3 Gators marked a milestone for Tech, as the Jackets had not defeated an opponent ranked higher than No. 9 since Louisiana-Lafayette in 2004. Tech hosted then-No. 3 Washington in last year’s Super Regional round but was swept in the best-of-three series against the eventual national champions.Tech faced two more opponents on Sunday, Feb. 14 and notched another pair of victories over East Carolina and Florida Gulf Coast.

Tech’s offense was fairly quiet for most of the game, but a first-inning home run by Yee—who later added an RBI double—and a fourth-inning shot by Adkins were more than enough support for Rush in the circle.

The freshman phenom pitched another complete game shutout and came one out shy of throwing a no-hitter in Tech’s 3-0 win.

After allowing a walk in the first inning, Rush proceeded to retire 18 straight Pirate hitters and allowed just two balls in that span to go beyond the infield. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, ECU left fielder Marina Gusman-Brown knocked a single to right to end the no-hit bid.

Rush allowed another hit to the next Pirate batter, but Gusman-Brown was thrown out, ending the game and completing Tech’s third straight shutout to open the year.

The tournament finale pitted Tech against Florida Gulf Coast, and while the Jackets finally allowed a run and committed five errors in the game, Tech’s bats led the way to a 10-5 victory.

Adkins, the starting pitcher for the Jackets, got two quick outs in the top of the first but allowed the Eagles to manufacture a run on a walk and two singles.

She made up for it in the bottom half, though, at the plate. Adkins drove in Yee and sophomore Shannon Bear with a two-run double to put Tech ahead 2-1. Tech added three more in the bottom of the second increasing the lead to 5-1.

Over the next three innings, the Jackets scored five runs, with Yee and Weseman again combining to drive in three runs in the fifth. Tech gave up a run in the fourth and three in the fifth, but all were unearned and resulted from a series of defensive mishaps.

With runners at the corners and one out in the top of the sixth, Head Coach Sharon Perkins shifted Adkins to third base and put Coan in to pitch. The sophomore Coan struck out the next two Eagle hitters to end the inning, then struck out the side in the top of the seventh to close out the game and improve Tech’s record to 4-0 to open the year.

Of the five runs that Adkins surrendered, only one was earned. Adkins gave up seven hits and two walks in 5.1 innings pitched, striking out two. Coan pitched the final 1.2 innings and struck out every batter she faced over that span.

At the plate, Weseman went 3-for-3 with four RBI, and she fell a home run shy of hitting for the cycle. Yee, batting leadoff in the game, went 2-for-2 and drew a pair of walks, and she scored all four times she reached base.

The Jackets will travel across the country as they look to continue their strong start at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas from Feb. 19-21. Tech will face five teams there before returning for their first home game of the season against Kennesaw State on Feb. 24.