Few people ever put pressure on a defense like Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who had more than 3,000 career hits and stole 1,406 bases in his Major League Baseball career — or 468 more than anyone else ever did.
“The players on defense have to worry about me and I think I give our hitters good pitches to hit,” Henderson once said after stealing four bases for the Oakland A’s in a 1989 playoff game.
Henderson is on the brain because of Georgia softball’s speedy and ultra-productive Emanuel sisters: leadoff batter Cortni and No. 2 hitter Sydni. Like Henderson, they constantly apply pressure on the opposing defense, whether at the plate or on the bases.
“I would say a lot of times, most defenses that we play do tend to rush and make some bad throws,” said Cortni, who is batting .462 this season, with an SEC-best 31 stolen bases and 27 runs scored. “Speed, for sure, putting pressure on the defense, that is our main goal.”
Such was the case Monday night at Jack Turner Stadium, where both Emanuels had a pair of hits and they combined to score all of No. 16 Georgia’s runs in a 3-1 series-clinching win over Kentucky.
“When they’re on fire, we’re on fire,” Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer said.
As of late Monday night, both Emanuels were in the top five in the SEC in batting average. In the three-game series against Kentucky, they combined for 11 hits and five runs.
The Wildcats committed four errors Monday, though some of them were actually forced. When the Emanuels put the ball in play in the infield or when they’re speeding to the next base, you don’t have much time to field the ball and fire it to get the out. Hence, some wild throws.
Sydni reached on an error in the bottom of the first inning and later scored from third on another Kentucky error. In the second inning, Cortni got a two-out infield single and Sydni followed it with a single, which resulted in a throwing error that allowed Cortni to score, putting Georgia up 2-0.
No errors were involved in Georgia’s third run, though an Emanuel was. Sydni, who leads the Bulldogs with a .505 batting average, to go along with 14 steals and a team-best 30 runs scored, got on base with an infield single.
The Emanuels said they’ve seen a lot of different defensive adjustments in their Georgia careers, which means its up to them to find ways to hit around them.
“Some teams shift on us, other teams will bring their second baseman in, leave their first baseman back,” Sydni said. “Most of the time the third baseman’s always in.”
After Sydni singled in the fourth, DiCarlo brought her home with an RBI double to right field. DiCarlo, who plays third for Georgia, sees in practice what opposing defenses are up against with Sydni and Cortni, and she’s very happy to not have to deal with it in games.
“They’re so fast, the defense has to be almost perfect to get them out,” said DiCarlo, who has a team-best 40 RBIs.
The Emanuels are “on fire,” but so are a lot of other Georgia bats. The Bulldogs lead the SEC with a team batting average of .387, the next best is Ole Miss at .354. Georgia’s 217 runs lead the league, as do its 84 stolen bases, which are 22 more than anyone else.
Hits, steals and runs, and opposing teams have committed 53 errors in 30 games. That’s a steady stream of pressure on opposing defenses, sparked by the sisters at the top of the lineup.
John Frierson is the staff writer for the UGA Athletic Association and curator of the ITA Men’s Tennis Hall of Fame. You can find his work at: Frierson Files. He’s also on Twitter: @FriersonFiles and @ITAHallofFame.