Five Stiff Tests To Challenge No. 6 Jacket Baseball

ATLANTA (Feb. 28) — Georgia Tech’s baseball team will learn a lot about itself this week as the Jackets face arch-rival Georgia twice in the middle of the week before travelling to California to take on national powers Southern California, Cal State Fullerton and Mississippi State this weekend.

The Jackets (8-2) enter the week having won six of seven on a homestand that spanned the last 10 days. Tech is ranked No. 6 this week by Collegiate Baseball, No. 10 by Baseball America.

“I think this week for us will have a post-season feel,” said head coach Danny Hall. “With two games against our in-state rival, then three against nationally renowned opponents, we’ll find out a lot of answers about our ballclub in every area.”

The week kicks off Tuesday with a visit to Foley Field in Athens with a 4 p.m. contest against Georgia (6-0), and the Bulldogs return the visit at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Russ Chandler Stadium. The Bulldogs have shown improvement in the early going in their first year under the helm of Ron Polk.

“I had a lot of respect for their players last year, and they had a lot of young players,” said Hall. “They were going to get better, and I knew Ron Polk would make them better. However, he and I don’t play, and it’s the guys on the field who are going to make a difference in the game.”

Both games against Georgia will be broadcast locally by Media One Channel 33. Matt Stewart will provide play-by-play, while Scott Fletcher serves as the color analyst. Tuesday’s game will be broadcast live, while Wednesday’s game will be shown on a tape-delay basis at 7 p.m.

Hall will turn to his ace in the opener on Tuesday with southpaw Cory Vance (Vandalia, Ohio), 2-0, 0.64 ERA, looking for his third win of the season. In the rematch at Russ Chandler Stadium Wednesday, the Jackets will likely turn to sophomore Brad Busbin (Orlando, Fla.) on the mound. Busbin stands at 1-0 with a 5.14 ERA on the year.

Following Wednesday’s game, the Jackets will face three of college baseball’s storied programs in USC, Cal State Fullerton and Mississippi State in this weekend’s Kia Baseball Bash in Fullerton, Calif.

“We played in the same tournament in 1994, and three of the four teams (Tech, Fullerton and Oklahoma) ended up in the College World Series,” said Hall. “So, we’d like to see that happen again.”

In Friday’s game against No. 11 Southern California (9-3), sophomore right-hander Steve Kelly (Fairfield, Ohio), 1-0, 5.68 ERA, will likely make his third start of the year. Saturday, Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), 1-1, 6.23 ERA, is the early favorite to get the nod against No. 7 Cal State Fullerton (5-5), while Vance will make his second start of the week on Sunday as the Jackets face Mississippi State (7-0).

“We need to be more consistent in our starting pitching,” said Hall. “I thought Kelly threw better last time out (Saturday vs. UNC Greensboro). He struck out six, didn’t walk anyone and only allowed two runs, so he had a pretty good start.”

At the plate, junior catcher Bryan Prince (Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.) has taken over the team lead in batting average (.514) and runs batted in (13). Prince comes off a banner week in which he went 11-for-16 at the plate with 9 RBI. Sophomore Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .475, 9 RBI, has served as Tech’s leadoff hitter in each of the 10 games so far, and plays second base.

Sophomores Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.), .450, 3 HR, 12 RBI, is a staple at third base, Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .267, 1 HR, 11 RBI is the everyday shortstop, and Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .279, 8 RBI, has started every game in center field.

Junior Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .378, 9 RBI, and freshman Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .294, 3 HR, 11 RBI, have both seen time at multiple positions, behind the plate, in the outfield, and at first base as Hall tries to keep both bats in the lineup.

Junior Derik Goffena (Sidney, Ohio), .308, 6 RBI has seen time as well at first base, while senior Jahmal Overton (Chattanooga, Tenn.), .316, 1 HR, and junior Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .182, have shared time in the third outfield position.

“Prince had an outstanding weekend,” said Hall. “We need people like that around Teixeira to protect him at the plate.”

The Jackets will need production both on the mound and at the plate this week, in their first challenging stretch of the 2000 season.

“Maybe we’re a bit better than we think, or not as good as we think,” said Hall. “Playing games like these early in the season is a great opportunity for us to find out.”

SERIES VS. GEORGIA
This week’s meetings between Tech and the rival Bulldogs are the first two of four between the schools in 2000. The Jackets will travel to Athens on March 14, and Georgia returns to Russ Chandler Stadium on April 25. The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 176-134-2, however in recent years, Tech has had the upper hand, winning four of the last five games in the series and 12 of the last 17. The Jackets have won or split the annual series every year since 1987, a season which saw the teams split the two regular season meetings, before UGA downed Tech in the NCAA Regionals. Tech took three of the four meetings in 1999.

SERIES VS. KIA BASEBALL BASH TEAMS
Southern Cal: Despite the storied histories of both programs, Friday’s matchup at the Kia Baseball Bash will be the first-ever meeting between USC and Georgia Tech. The Trojans have captured 12 national championships in their history, most recently in 1998. Against Pac-10 teams all-time, Tech is 5-12.

Cal State Fullerton: Tech has taken three of the four meetings against the Titans, including a pair in the 1994 College World Series. Each of the four meetings have been hard fought, however, as two resulted in one-run extra-innings affairs, and the others were each played to a 2-0 score.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have captured 10 of the 13 matchups against Tech, although MSU has been anything but a common foe for the Jackets in recent years. Sunday’s game will mark the first regular season contest between the two teams since 1927. The Jackets visited Starkville for the 1997 NCAA Regionals, and fell 10-2 to the host school during that event.

LEWIS LEADS THE WAY
Coming into the 2000 campaign, one of the questions about the Jackets’ offensive attack was whether someone could fill in for Matthew Boggs (Dalton, Ga.) in the leadoff spot. Boggs, who has served as Tech’s leadoff hitter for the majority of the last two seasons, underwent elbow surgery in October, and is likely lost for the majority of the season. In his place, however, Richard Lewis has turned some heads with his outstanding start.

Lewis, who recorded Tech’s first five-hit game in nearly two years on Sunday, sports a .475 batting average and a team-high .569 on-base percentage. The sophomore has hit safely in nine of the Jackets’ 10 games, and struck out just three times in 40 at-bats.

GRINDING IT OUT
Despite averaging 10.3 runs/game, the Jackets’ offensive attack in 2000 has seen a power shortage compared to recent years. Through 10 games, Tech has compiled just 10 home runs, the lowest home run per game average (1.0 per game) that the Jackets have seen since 1980. Extra base hits as a whole have been unfamiliar to the 2000 Tech squad, which has tallied just 27 in 10 games, the lowest rate since the 1982 campaign. Only two Tech players have more than one home run (Mark Teixiera and Tyler Parker). Similarly, of the 38 hits slapped out by Richard Lewis and Bryan Prince (19 each, to lead the squad), 35 of them have been singles.

FIT FOR A PRINCE
Knowing that he had to compete with Jason Basil and Tyler Parker for playing time, Bryan Prince has made a loud and clear case for being in the lineup every day. Prince, coming off a week which saw him go 11-for-16 at the plate (.688) and drive in nine, leads the team in batting average (.514) and runs batted in (13).

The junior from Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. provided his share of ninth inning heroics against UNC Greensboro, blasting a two-run home run on Saturday as Tech attempted to rally from a 10-4 deficit. Sunday, with Tech trailing 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth, Prince’s single up the middle (and seventh hit of the weekend) tied the game at 7-7 as Tech went on to win.

TECH BASEBALL THIS WEEK….

Tue.    at Georgia*#           4 p.m. Wed.    GEORGIA*#              3 p.m.Kia Baseball Bash, Fullerton, Calif.Fri.    Southern California*    5:30 p.m.Sat.    Cal State Fullerton*    10 p.m.Sun.    Mississippi State*      4 p.m.* radio broadcast on WREK-FM (91.1)# televised in Atlanta on Media One, Channel 33All times Eastern

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