Second basemen the key for Georgia Tech

A batting average close to .600 might have been expected from Georgia Tech second baseman Jen Yee this season. She was, after all, an All-American last year.

But there's another second baseman at Tech who is raising some eyebrows. After figuring out how college baseball worked last year as a freshman, Jake Esch has moved to the infield from the bullpen and is also popping the ball this spring.

Together, the two keystone players are powering their teams with batting averages more akin to tee-ball than coming against collegiate pitchers.

Yee, in her last season at Tech, is running away from the ACC with a .589 batting average, more than 150 points higher than her closest competitor.

Esch, who didn't swing a bat last year as a freshman, is Tech's fourth-leading hitter with a .417 batting average.

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And no, neither expected this kind of success. Almost mimicking each other in separate interviews, each player raised their eyebrows and said "Yeah" when asked if they are surprising themselves.

Esch and the third-ranked Jackets (12-1)  will host rival Georgia (8-8) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Russ Chandler Stadium. Across the street at Mewborn Field, Yee and the No. 11/8 softball team (22-3) will host Georgia Southern (13-9) in a two-game series on Wednesday.

Both players credit their success to work in the offseason.

Esch played in the wood-bat Northwoods League in Wisconsin last summer, where he worked on his infielder skills, albeit at shortstop and third, as well as his hitting. He said he would show up in Madison five hours before every game to take extra BP and ground balls.

During fall workouts, when it became apparent that Tech's second-base job was up for grabs, Esch worked even harder and won a three-man competition for last unsettled position on the team.

"He came back a totally different player than the guy who came here as a freshman," coach Danny Hall said. "He was much more college-ready, game-ready and competition-ready."

Yee, a career .374 hitter, worked out during the summer with the Canadian national team. She spent a lot of time with Canadian assistant Dave Paetkau, whom she described as one of the game's best hitting coaches.

"Playing the best in the world had made me better," said Yee, a Canadian Olympian. "But I still can get better."

It would be hard to see how. Her 15 home runs are five more than anyone else in the ACC and one less than her season-high set last year. Her 36 RBIs are 12 more than teammate Hope Rush, who has the second-most in the conference.

Pitchers have seemingly given up on trying to get her out. She leads the ACC with 24 walks, including five in the past three games.

Neither player goes into every at-bat thinking hit. They said the situation usually dictates what they hope to do.

Esch said he spent time during the summer and fall concentrating on keeping his hands inside every pitch, which helps keep his bat in the hitting zone longer. If a curve ball fools him, he's still able to pull it to left field. If a fastball fools him, he can go to right field.

"Better to be lucky than good sometimes," said Esch, who is from suburban Minneapolis. "Balls just keep finding holes. Hopefully it keeps happening. Our [assistant] coach, Matt White, says my good approach is what gets these bleeders to keep falling in."

Yee said she doesn't over-think her hitting. She enjoys analyzing what the pitcher is throwing. Once she gets a game plan, her goal is simply to hit the ball hard. The work she put in last summer has helped her drive outside pitches, something she wasn't able to consistently do in the past.

"Most of the home runs are mis-hits that just happen to go out," Yee said.

Last year, the best hitter in Division I baseball, Middle Tennessee's Bryce Brentz, hit .465. The softball leader, Alabama A&M's Re'Quincia Mack, hit .500.

Esch and Yee said the hitting has been fun and they hope to keep the momentum going, but they would prefer to make it to their sport's World Series. The softball team has never made it that far. The baseball team's last appearance was 2006.

"That's what it's about," Esch said.

(INFO BOXES)

Jen Yee

Class: Redshirt senior

Position: Second base

Bats/Throws: L/R

Hometown: North Delta, British Columbia

Major: Materials and science engineering

Notes: Helped the Canadian national team to fourth-place at the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Jake Esch

Class: Sophomore

Position: Second base

Bats/Throws: R/R

Hometown: Chanhassen, Minn.

Major: Engineering

Notes: Went 16-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 121 innings of work in three-year high school career. Hit .445 with 13 homers, 21 doubles and 92 RBI at Cretin-Derham Hall.

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