Softball ready to start season with Buzz Classic

Morgan Burce pitches in a 2021 game for the Jackets. Bruce was Tech’s second winningest pitcher last season, with Neleman, the team’s wins leader, returning to the Flats for another season in the circle. // Photo by Tuna Ergan Student Publications

After a 2021 season in which they finished ninth in the ACC, Tech’s softball’s team is all set to start its 2022 season against the Saint Joseph’s Hawks and the Villanova Wildcats on Feb. 11 at Mewborn Field.

The Jackets will play 55 games in total, including 34 home games featuring four ACC series against tournament’s defending champions Duke on March 4-6, Women’s College World Series (WCWS) finalist Florida State on March 11-13, Syracuse on March 25-27 and North Carolina State on April 15-17. They will also face in-state foes Mercer on Feb. 15, Georgia State on Feb. 23 and again on April 20, Kennesaw State on March 2 and 30 and archrival UGA on March 15.

In 2021, the team had a record of 20-26. They beat eighth seeded Syracuse in the first round of the ACC tournament, thanks to the efforts of pitcher Blake Neleman who threw her first career no-hitter. The Jackets won that game 6-0 before falling to Clemson, the tournament’s top seed. 

Clemson topped the table in the regular season in 2021 while Duke took home the ACC tournament title. Clemson, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame represented the ACC in the NCAA regionals and FSU went on to become the runners up of WCWS, losing to Oklahoma. The 2022 ACC tournament will be played at Pittsburgh’s Vartabedian Field on May 11-14. 

“The Panthers are really excited to host the ACC Championship tournament in 2022,” said Head Coach Jodi Hermanek. The field has also received upgrades in turf, fence padding, logos and banners. 

Relying on players like graduate senior Tricia Awald and senior Bailee Zeitler, the team hopes to score big in the upcoming season. With the third-highest on-base percentage in a single ACC season (.555) and the eighth-highest batting average (.411) and slugging percentage (.726) in 2021, Awald is the most decorated player in the squad. She is Justin’s World of Softball Third Team All-American, NFCA First Team All-Region and First Team All-ACC first baseman in 2021. Along with Emma Kauf, she has also been named to the 2022 Preseason All-ACC Softball Team. 

The White and Gold were also projected to finish seventh by the preseason polls. Fresh faces on the team include first baseman and pitcher Jayden Gailey, catcher Reese Hunter and outfielder Paige Vukadinovich. All three were ranked in the top 50 prospects in Extra Inning Softball’s 2022 Extra Elite 100 polls.

In the offseason, alumna Jen Yee was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2021. She wore the White and Gold from 2007 to 2010. With the highest batting average (.425), slugging percentage (.814), on-base percentage (.552) and runs scored (229) in Tech’s history, she led the team to ACC tournament titles in 2009 and 2010. She also represented Canada in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and four world championship teams.

With tough, high profile matches lined up, the team will have to focus their efforts to thrive and have a successful year. An exciting season begins at Shirley Clements Mewborn Field on Feb. 11 as the Jackets look to start their season with wins at the Buzz Classic to boost their nonconference record.