ATLANTA, GEORGIA - This summer, as we did last summer, Yellow Jacket Roundup will be taking a ten-week hiatus as the summer sports break splits spring from fall and the academic year begins anew. Pretty much the same premise, expect this year, we have a better, and more alliterative name. Softball is another team that’s putting some pieces together. Coach Aileen Morales comes into the third year of her tenure on the Flats and has improved year-over-year. Will the Jackets stay the course?
When We Last Saw ‘Em:
For most of the other programs on the Flats, it’s pretty straightforward to discuss each and every one of the matches, events and tournaments from the season. With softball’s 58 games, though, that leaves a lot of details to get lost in when talking about overall narratives from a season.
Just from the highest of high level, first glance looks, one can already spot a couple shimmering needles in the massive haystack that is the NCAA Division I softball landscape. The sheer number of teams, players, and games means that, on the surface, even a cursory glance at things like win totals, team batting average, and staff earned run average can shed a barometric light on the context of the season. And, in the win department, Tech took another step forward. For the second year in a row, they finished above .500 after several years below that mark with the previous regime. For the second year in a row, they added to their win total. Their 31-27 season netted them four more wins in five more games played than the previous season. This alone is a good sign. Rather than bowing out in the first round of the ACC Championship, the Jackets were able to net their first postseason win in recent memory before having the misfortune of drawing No. 5 Florida State in the quarterfinals, who had somehow only secured the conference’s second seed.
And, just from watching one game, let alone several dozen, a couple things became pretty clear about Georgia Tech pretty quickly. First, the team can mash the ball. Though they rank in the 61st percentile in batting average, at a cool No. 114 out of the 295 Division I softball programs, they finished in the 87th percentile for home runs per game and slugging percentage. This team is built to rake. Not only that, the low batting average is deceiving—their on-base percentage, which is almost unequivocally the more important statistic, is top-25 in the country, good for 92nd percentile and a runs-per-game somewhere in the middle of the pack.
This is a team of Kevin Youkilis-es or Kyle Schwarber-s, to borrow an ideology from Theo Epstein. Wait for your pitches, take hacks at them, and mash the [Hall & Oates] out of the ball. The strikeout percentage of 18.4% is pretty high, but so is the hit-by-pitch percentage. And they only grounded into five double plays all season. This team didn’t waste at bats on weak contact, and thus it became a team of the three true outcomes: striking out, walking, and hitting home runs. If you happen to be a window in O’Keefe, best be on high alert, especially if they keep building this young base of talented hitters.
Of course, with all this fawning over the batting, you might be wondering how they didn’t do better than four games above .500. Of course, the inherent streakiness of hitting—especially in this sport—plays a part in it, but the flip side of the coin to their solid hitting was the inflated team ERA. No. 224 in the country (out of 295 teams) is not a good number. Of course, the pitching staff had good control numbers, with a limited number of walks, but the .301 batting average and this group of strong sluggers getting out-slugged by opponents suggest a lot of these games were high scoring affairs.
This is not entirely inaccurate, and is probably best exemplified by the second game of the doubleheader against Pittsburgh on April 13. Georgia Tech would eventually finish off the series sweep of the Panthers, who were abysmal last year, as they should have, but not before spotting their guests a healthy 9 run lead. Tech scored 18 unanswered runs to win 18-9, which makes sense because they were a better team, and certainly a group of better bats, but getting shelled by the worst team in the conference for the early innings wasn’t ideal. Tech’s next big step will come when the pitching staff settles in a little bit. There are certainly good pieces in the bullpen, and we saw a couple pitching masterpieces last year, but it was too inconsistent to make them a tournament team, for sure.
And this is ultimately the issue: inconsistency. Much ink has been spilled about the same problems at every level of this sport, as well as baseball, but that’s the thing. Not every team can be this year’s Oklahoma, to borrow a softball example, or Vanderbilt, to borrow a baseball team. My favorite [professional] baseball adage is that every team wins 60 games and loses 60 games, and it’s the other 40 that determine what kind of team you are. Georgia Tech has found a way to win more of those games year-over-year each of the last two seasons. But that still doesn’t mean they’ve reached the summit of the sport, surely, or even of their own potential. Taking care of business in the games you’re “supposed” to win goes a long way to getting the foot in the door for the Big Dance in May and June. Dropping the opening two games to Providence is a good example of the opposite. And, in three of the series the Jackets got swept in—Iowa State, Louisville, Notre Dame—it’s pretty to easy to see where this team still needs work.
But that’s the thing, asking for it to all come together right away, or each part in once, is too tall of an order. It is entirely unreasonable to expect a team that went 19-34 with a team ERA of 4.82 to become a juggernaut within two years. In the meantime, control what you can control - they didn’t steal a lot of bases, but a roughly 79% success rate is good - don’t waste outs - low number of double plays grounded into - keep your mind in the game - a fielding percentage in the top two thirds of the country - and wait for your pitch - great batting eyes. Stansbury’s first hire has been lauded by plenty more than us here at From the Rumble Seat. But it deserves to be said they’re building quite the strong foundation.
It’s pretty easy to see the fielding is coming along, but isn’t perfect yet. It’s pretty easy to see a lot of Tech’s games result in a lot of runs for both sides. It’s pretty easy to see they put a lot of batters on the basepaths and hit a lot of dingers. It’s also pretty easy to see just how far they’ve come and how much potential they have.
It’s not fair to expect that to happen overnight. But, man, do I have faith that they’re going to get there.
Meghan Cassidy - Mill Creek HS, GA
Emma Kauf - Lincoln Southwest HS, NE
Blake Neleman - Lassiter HS, GA
Kinley Stewart - Loganville HS, GA
Various and Sundry:
Even though I spent 1,000 words talking about the season Tech just had, I failed to mention any players by name, so here’s where we’ll do that:
- Breanna Roper, for a spell, was one of the best hitters on the planet, straight up. Every time she comes to the plate, there is a real chance she can put the ball anywhere on the field. Easily the biggest breakout player of the season. Doesn’t have crazy power numbers, but one of Tech’s best contact hitters and will certainly keep growing into the shoes of Tech’s next great leadoff hitters in her upperclassman years at Tech.
- Katie Krzus will be missed, and already was, in the ten or so games she missed due to injury. The senior, and with Crosby Huckabay, one of the last major holdover on offense from the previous coaching regime, flourished in her last two years on the Flats.
- Tricia Awald was one of Tech’s highest-impact transfers in a long time.
- Cameron Stanford, who along with Huckabay, Awald, and Krzus was one of four Tech players to finish with double-digit home runs, was another huge breakout player for Tech.
- Of course, more deserve recognition, but, suffice it to say, up and down the lineup, it was a strong team.
- Like baseball’s James Ramsey, the Collins Effect (trademark From the Rumble Seat, 2019) has spread to softball, as seen most prominently via the five trophies in their Twitter page header.
- Much like Ken Byers Tennis Complex the past two weeks, Mewborn Field is a tremendous place to watch a game and doesn’t get nearly the turnout the ideal setting, exciting sport, and notable team deserve. Best spring sport to watch, for value—and for giveaways, if that’s your speed.
- Two incoming freshmen hit for huge power. Another hits for contact. The last one is an extremely well-regarded pitcher. Good looks for Tech.
- The ACC is a conference in need of a second powerhouse outside of Florida State. Georgia Tech can fill that role in the Coastal.
Future Schedule Highlights:
With hosting the ACC-Big Ten Challenge now an annual rite of the southern schools, Tech will almost certainly do so again. The last two years have seen a mixed bag in opponents, with Tech sweeping or being swept pretty much every two game set. Also, another two or three early season tournaments, likely one with notable powerhouse teams, should be expected. Then comes the conference slate and the midweek games. Much like baseball, the tennis teams, and women’s basketball, Tech softball does a good job of scheduling local-interest mid-majors in addition to SEC titans to give a nice strength of schedule mix in the midweeks. Likely Tech will play in the ACC Tournament for the third straight year, but, if everything breaks right, perhaps they’ll continue playing even beyond that.
Buy: Keep buying. Losing Krzus hurts, but Tech gets in more than goes out. Another year to hone this pitching staff will undoubtedly do them good. And the already high-on-underclassmen lineup adds more talented young reinforcements that look to keep the trend of big bats hitting in lots of runners. Buy in on Tech softball.
June 10th - Track and Field June 17th - Men’s Golf June 24th - Women’s Tennis July 1st - Men’s Tennis July 8th - Softball
July 15th - State of the Program
July 22nd - Women’s Basketball
July 29th - Cross Country
August 5th - Swimming and Diving
August 12th - Volleyball
If you have any insight you’d like to share on this, or any other program at Tech, leave a comment below. In our next edition, we head across the street for a look into our last spring sport, the softball team.