The Tech softball team will begin its defense of its ACC championship title with their season opener on Friday, Feb. 8. Last season, the Jackets won their third ACC tournament in the past four years and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the eleventh straight year. With six starters and two of three pitchers returning from last season, the team hopes to achieve even greater success this season.
“Hope changes speeds really well, she’s good at spotting pitches…”
The two returning pitchers from last year are senior All-American Hope Rush and sophomore Kylie Kleinschmidt, joining freshman newcomer Ashley Clifton on the pitching staff.
Rush was the team’s main pitcher last season, starting two-thirds of the team’s games while compiling a 2.58 earned run average (ERA). She went 26-12 as a starter, compared to the team’s 11-11 record when she wasn’t in the starting lineup. She pitched 31 complete games and recorded ten shutouts, and opponents hit for an average of just .220 against her, striking out a total of 146 times.
“We’ll definitely go to her right out of the gate. Hope changes speeds really well, she’s good at spotting pitches, she keeps the ball in the ball park and keeps people off balance in changing speeds and locations,” said head coach Sharon Perkins, courtesy of ramblinwreck.com.
Rush will also be a threat in the batting lineup. She hit for .309 last season, which was good for third on the team. Her 43 runs batted in (RBI) led the team, and her eleven home runs were second-best.
Kleinschmidt was the team’s second starter and will fill the same role this season. She appeared in 24 games last year, amassing a 6-9 record and a 6.80 ERA. Clifton will also get the nod to start occasionally, as she had a productive offseason according to Perkins.
The Jackets will return four out of their five starters in the infield this year, while the third base slot is still open for competition.
Sophomore Karly Fullem will play first base after assuming that position for 43 games last year. She hit for .228 last year, amassing 28 total hits and 21 RBI. She may also pitch if necessary, leaving the spot open for a freshman to see some action.
Next to her at second base will be sophomore Chelsie Thomas. She started all sixty games as a freshman, hitting for .276 and earning a .968 fielding percentage. Junior Ashley Thomas will return at shortstop after starting every game and stealing a team-high 31 bases.
While the third base position is still up for grabs, it looks like freshman Courtney Ziese will fill that role. She will also split time at catcher if necessary.
Another freshman, Maddie Lionberger, could also see time in the lineup, as she has the potential to play any infield position, according to Perkins. Sophomore utility player Caitlyn Coffey may see action there as well.
Junior Alysha Rudnik will handle most of the catching duties, as she started behind the plate for 57 games last year. She totaled fifty his last season along with 35 RBI and nine home runs. She will occasionally trade positions with Ziese in order to not tire out their legs.
Junior Hayley Downs will start in center field once again after doing so in every game last year. She received high praise for her work ethic from her head coach.
“She runs the outfield. She just covers so much ground. She’ll run through the wall literally. She’s day in and day out giving 110 percent. She gives it all in. She’s the heart and soul of the team with her work ethic, which is what we need. We need somebody to do that. People lead in different ways and she’s a vocal leader, but she’s also out there every day doing it. She’s a great representation,” Perkins said, courtesy of ramblinwreck.com.
Sophomore Katie Johnsky will return to right field, leaving left field open for senior Kelley Delashmit, junior Kaitlyn Kates, or freshman Morgan Taylor. Expect to see each player sharing time in that position over the course of the season.
The Jackets will play their first eleven games of the year at home, opening the season against Eastern Michigan in the Georgia Tech Invitational, before travelling to tournaments in California and Florida. After that they will begin ACC play at Virginia, followed by a home game versus the Georgia Bulldogs on March 13. In the conference, the Jackets will play North Carolina State, Maryland, and Florida State at home, and Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Boston College on the road. The regular season will conclude May 5, and the ACC tournament will begin on the ninth in Tallahassee, Fl.