Staff Photo: John Bohn Player of the Year for Softball Sam Pierannunzi of Peachtree Ridge, posses for a portrait at her school. Pierannunzi will play softball for Georgia Tech.
For the better part of the last two years, Peachtree Ridge's Sam Pierannunzi has attempted to reinvent her swing at the plate and transform from a light-hitting, speedy slapper into a power-hitting slugger.
And after a solid transition season as a junior, the senior centerfielder has succeeded beyond even her, or the Lions,' wildest dreams this fall.
Pierannunzi posted career highs in average, home runs, RBIs and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) to help lead Peachtree Ridge to Region 7-AAAAAA's regular season championship and the second round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs, and become the Daily Post's Player of the Year.
"My freshman and sophomore years, I was mostly a slap hitter and bunter," Pierannunzi said. "But I started growing into my (5-foot-10 frame). I've always been fast. I've never been like (former Buford and current Georgia Tech standout) Chelsie Thomas fast, but I've always been fast. But some of my coaches (the last few years) have told me that if I tried to work on my swing, I could become a good power hitter."
The results started to come slowly through her last two summers of travel softball, as well as her junior season with the Lions, during which she jumped from a combined 11 extra base hits over her first two varsity seasons to 21, including her first two high school home runs.
But this season, Pierannunzi's numbers took an even more dramatic jump to career-bests of .481 average with 11 homers, 28 RBIs and 1.653 OPS, along with four doubles and three triples.
But to Peachtree Ridge coach Bubba Wilson, the most impressive thing about Pierannunzi's power surge is that it has not come at the expense of her speed game.
With team highs of 30 walks, 29 stolen bases and 46 runs scored, she gave the Lions a dual threat from her leadoff spot in the batting order.
"If you have a tendency to hit for power, you always worry about (opponents) walking her," Wilson said. "Now if they do walk her, she has the ability to steal second, and someone hitting behind her has a chance to drive her in.
"When you add that element of speed to her (power) game, it changes everything. That combination of power and speed is what made (this season) so fun to watch her, and so difficult for opponents (to pitch to her)."
Even some of Gwinnett's best inside the circle found it hard to find a hole in Pierannunzi's swing.
"Sam Pierannunzi's a great player all the way around -- offensively and defensively," said Archer's Nani Cabrales, the Daily Post's Pitcher of the Year, whom Pierannunzi hit a home run off of during a regular season tournament.
Pierannunzi's dual threat not only made it difficult for Lions opponents to pitch to her, but also to defense her.
Early in her career, corner infielders used to be able to cheat in a few steps in anticipation of a slap hit or a bunt -- a strategy some defenses continued as recently as early this season, and one she quickly began to exploit.
"I tried to take advantage of that," Pierannunzi said. "Starting in region play, by my second at bat (of a game), they'd start playing back. That's amazing because I'd never seen that before."
While working on the new mechanics of her swing required quite a bit of work, Pierannunzi says the mental aspects of the change were an even bigger adjustment.
In fact, she pretty much had to unlearn nearly everything she had learned before.
And for that, she relied on the encouragement and guidance from sources like Wilson and her travel ball coaches, as well as private instructors.
"The thing that was hardest mentally was taking the swings I produced in practice and convincing myself to let go (of the old swing) and bring those (new) mechanics into a game," Pierannunzi said. "I've been working with Ashlye Washington over at The Pitcher's Mound (training center in Duluth). She's been amazing. I'm kind of a head case when it comes to this sport, and she's figured out the exact things to say to me to help me figure it out."
One thing Pierannunzi won't have to figure out when she heads off to play collegiately at Georgia Tech next year is who she's playing with.
With the Yellow Jackets recruiting heavily in Gwinnett County these days -- with Thomas among a large local contingent already with the team, Cabrales and Providence Christian's Jessie Kowalowiecz having signed National Letters of Intent last week and North Gwinnett's Draven Sonnen and Mill Creek's Morgan Bell already verbally committed to Tech as juniors -- Pierannunzi won't need long to settle into the college game.
"It will help because the first couple of weeks of college are usually the most awkward," Pierannunzi said. "This (Tech) team is so cool, especially with all the previous relationships. It makes it so much more inviting and takes the awkwardness away."