The Tech softball team will start 2012 as the No. 23 ranked team and the favorites to win the ACC. So far, it is the seasons’ endings that Head Coach Sharon Perkins wishes the team could improve upon. Perkins, who enters her sixth season with the Jackets, is looking to increase the team’s win total by going deeper into the NCAA Tournament. Following a disappointing early-round ending to last season, the Jackets look poised to play well into June with the return of a handful of key players.
Tech’s key returnee on offense is senior third baseman Kelsi Weseman. Weseman enters the season as a preseason All-American after three strong seasons playing shortstop. Last year, Weseman was the team’s best hitter, leading the team in average and on base percentage at .424 and .538, respectively. Weseman was also the team’s main run producer, hitting in the number two spot in the lineup. Weseman led the team in homeruns with 21 and had an outstanding .968 slugging percentage last year. Weseman may not get the chance to see a lot of good pitches this season, though, as opposing teams may just walk her intentionally.
Also returning for the Jackets is Weseman’s battery mate sophomore shortstop Ashley Thomas. Thomas had a strong freshman campaign, hitting .305 and scoring 32 runs. Thomas also stole 27 bases in 29 chances and will be the primary base stealer this season. Thomas will primarily hit leadoff this year, but she will have to improve upon her on-base percentage.
Another sophomore looking to make an impact in 2012 is first baseman Alysha Rudnik. Rudnik was all-conference last season after hitting 16 homeruns and slugging .701. Rudnik was a strong at the hot corner last season and will only improve after facing college hitters for another season. Rudnik will also be called upon to hit in the middle of the order and play first after the team lost first baseman Kristine Priebe. If she cannot make the transition to first, the job may go to senior Caroline Hilton.
At second, Tech plans to start true freshman Chelsie Thomas. Thomas comes to Tech from Buford, where she led her team to four consecutive state championships. She is only five-foot-two, but can make a serious impact on the team if she can get on base and play solid defense.
In the outfield, Tech has already experienced a setback at one of the corner outfield spots. Senior Jessica Sinclair would have started in right field this season, but will miss the entire season due to injury. Sinclair will be missed as she hit 12 homeruns in only 95 at bats last season and played strong defense. Starting in her place on opening day should be another freshman, Katie Johnsky. Johnsky has not played in a college game yet, but was named 6A high school player of the year after her senior season and led her team to the Final Four in her last two seasons.
The other corner outfield spot should belong to senior Shannon Bear, who had a breakout season last year in a limited role. Bear only started 37 games for the Jackets last season but hit nine homeruns and knocked in 31 runs. She will have to improve upon her 26 percent strikeout rate, but expect even better offensive numbers from Bear this season.
Tech appears to be in good hands in center this season even after losing former Jacket Christy Jones. Sophomore Hayley Downs will patrol center field this season after performing well as Jones’s backup. As a freshman, Downs hit a solid .311, but her best asset is her speed: She stole seven bags in only nine chances. This season, she will be asked to run more, extend singles and play an overall bigger role in the offense.
Kate Kuzma returns for her senior season and will be a leader behind the plate. Kuzma is not known for her average, but is highly dependable, having started all 57 games last season. If Kuzma should need a rare day off, Rudnik will move over from first to fill in.
At pitcher, the Jackets will have to find a way to replace former standout Kristen Adkins. Adkins won twenty games for the Jackets in dominating fashion with a 1.57 ERA. Adkins was the go-to pitcher down the stretch last year and often pitched on short rest.
One option for replacing Adkins is Lindsey Anderson, who posted a 13-2 record last year as a freshman. Anderson should benefit from another offseason as a college player, but will have to find a way to focus throughout the game. Anderson led all Tech pitchers with a .187 average against, but gave up 13 home runs. If she can limit her mistakes, Anderson could see last season’s ERA drop from 2.85 to under 2.00.
Another option for the Jackets is junior Hope Rush. After a stellar freshman season, Hope was expected to become even more dominant as a sophomore. However, Hope struggled more than expected in her sophomore season, posting a team-high ERA of 3.10. By comparison, Anderson pitched four more innings than Rush last season, and gave up 30 fewer hits.
It is worth noting that Rush is being compared to two great Tech pitchers. It is also worth noting that Rush is a fantastic hitter. Rush had 12 home runs and 38 RBIs in only 111 at bats last season. She was a power source for the offense last season after slugging .649, and will continue to be a force in the middle of the order this season even in non-pitching days.
At the third pitching spot, Tech will rely on some freshman but keep an eye on freshman Kylie Kleinschmidt. Kleinschmidt comes to Tech from Providence Christian where she holds the school’s records for wins, strikeouts and innings pitched.