The second weekend of February was a dreary one in Atlanta. Rain came in and out with never ending cloudy skies and cold temperatures in the 40s. While it was as bad as weather can get in Atlanta, Tech’s softball season began as good as it could.
The Jackets hosted the 22nd Buzz Classic, which included Boise State, Radford, and neighboring Georgia State. Tech played Boise State in a doubleheader on Feb. 12, Radford in a doubleheader on the Feb. 13 and concluded with a single game against State on Feb. 14.
Since the 2020 season was shortened as the COVID-19 pandemic began during last softball season, every player was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, which helped Tech retain depth in their lineup going into the 2021 season.
Tech won all five games they played over the weekend, allowing only three runs and scoring 44. Tech hit for .421 over the five games, led by freshman catcher and right fielder Emma Kauf and junior first baseman Patricia Awald. Both hit over .500 combining for four home runs, six doubles, 12 runs batted in and seven walks. Junior center fielder Kennedy Cowden hit for 14 of Tech’s runs batted in by way of only six hits, three of which were home runs. Junior second baseman Breanna Roper walked six times, recorded three hits and scored seven times in 16 plate appearances all while starting every game.
The first game against Boise State began the late morning of Feb. 12 to escape possible inclement weather. Second-year freshman Blake Neleman pitched a complete game for the Jackets in a 5-1 win, which was also the only game of the weekend that required a full seven innings to be played. She struck out 10 batters and allowed her only earned run in her three weekend starts, a solo home run. Roper actually started in right field for this game, making it the first time in two years she played a non-second base position. Freshmen Mallorie Black and Jin Sileo got their first college hits, both singles.
Game two against Boise State was a literal doubling of the score, with Tech winning 10-2 via the run ahead rule in the sixth inning. UGA transfer Madison McPherson made her Tech debut in the circle, pitching three innings of two hit ball, allowing the last of the runs Tech would face for the weekend. Roper scored three times and had three walks. Kauf continued her weekend tear going 2-3 with a walk. Cowden had four runs batted in via a three-run home run, her first collegiate homer.
Fifth-year senior Crosby Huckabay got her first start in right field in the five games going 2-2 and scoring once. Jin Sileo, who played exceptional defense every game, hit her first college home run in the third inning, which may not have come about had the first base umpire not mistakenly called a foul ball down the line earlier in the at bat. Fifth-year senior Morgan Bruce pitched the last three innings of the game, striking out four.
Saturday’s games against Radford featured Blake Neleman’s second complete game of the weekend in the first game. She struck out nine batters, walked two, and only allowed two hits even with a shaky fourth inning by her standards. Kauf absolutely bashed Radford’s pitching, scoring twice, homering in the third inning and driving in three. Cowden hit a bomb in her second at bat on a 3-2 count for her second home run of the weekend, driving in five of the 11 Tech runs in game one. Huckabay’s first inning single scored her 100th career RBI. Eight of the ten batters that hit for Tech in this game got at least one hit. The 11-0 win gave the Jackets their first 3-0 start in eight years.
Game two against Radford was a continuation of the first game’s bashing. Kauf hit another home run, Cowden’s third home run was a grand slam, which she deftly followed up with in her next at-bat with a bunt single. This was Tech’s most efficient game, needing to only hit four times and not even hit through the lineup a full three times. Eight of the first nine runs were scored with two outs. Roper walked twice and hit a single, scoring twice. Third-year sophomore Lexi Ray pitched all five innings of this game, allowing one hit, striking out three, and throwing 40 strikes on 57 pitches. She had a no-hitter that was broken up with one out in the fifth inning. In terms of complete domination, this game was as good as it got all weekend.
Georgia State was 3-1 coming into Sunday’s game, losing only to Boise State in the latter half of their own Saturday doubleheader. Kauf came into the game hitting .750, and was 0-1 in this game, but walked three times and stole two bases.
Awald hit her second home run and drove in two. Neleman pitched another complete game shutout, striking out ten again. Third-year sophomore Bailee Zeitler, who had been switched to second base to make room for Sileo at shortstop, got her first hit of the weekend on a two run home run in the second inning. Tech showed incredible plate discipline the whole game as every hitter reached at least one three-ball count. Fourth-year junior Cameron Stanford drove in the game ending run with a bases loaded single in the fifth inning, enforcing the run ahead rule to clinch Tech’s undefeated weekend.
Kauf’s .692 average for the weekend earned her ACC Player of the Week honors, and Neleman’s 17 innings of 0.41 ERA pitching earned her co-ACC Pitcher of the Week.
As of writing, Kauf is leading the ACC in hits, doubles, total bases, and walks. Neleman leads the ACC in wins and starts. She never allowed more than one hit per inning the whole weekend.