ATLANTA (March 5) – Off to a 12-2 start to the season, the top-ranked Georgia Tech baseball team visits SEC foe Auburn and hosts NC State to open Atlantic Coast Conference play this weekend. The Yellow Jackets are ranked No. 1 in this week’s Baseball America, USA Today/Baseball Weekly and Collegiate Baseball polls.
Tech visits No. 7 Auburn on Tuesday at 7 p.m (EST) at Plainsman Park, and the game will be broadcast live on WREK-Radio (91.1 FM in Atlanta) and on the internet at www. ramblinwreck.com. The Yellow Jackets open the ACC season with a three-game series with the Wolfpack at Russ Chandler Stadium. First pitch on Friday is set for 4 p.m., while the Saturday and Sunday contests will begin at 1:30 p.m. each day.
The Yellow Jackets went 5-1 in six games last week, sweeping a three-game set from Oakland before winning two of three from No. 25 Rutgers. Tech used timely hitting (.363 team batting average and 12.8 runs per game) and effective pitching (2.57 team ERA and .244 opponent batting average) while running its record to 12-2.
“It’s a big week for us,” said Tech head coach Danny Hall, the 2000 Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year. “It’s a big midweek game anytime you play a program like Auburn that is a nationally ranked team year in and year out. But even more important than that is NC State on the weekend because that starts conference play. Everything that we”re trying to accomplish this season gears off ACC play. It’s a new season once you start playing in the ACC.”
Sophomore right-hander Philip Perry (Marietta, Ga.), 1-0, 7.71 ERA, will get the starting nod on Tuesday at Auburn. Perry picked up a win in his first start of the season last week against Oakland, allowing four runs in six innings while striking out four batters.
For the NC State series, Tech will use the all junior righty rotation of Steve Kelly (Fairfield, Ohio), 2-0, 2.83 ERA, Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), 3-1, 6.97, and Brian Sager (Branford, Conn.), 1-0, 6.10. Kelly is coming off the most impressive start of his career when he tossed a 10-inning complete game against Rutgers last Friday without allowing an earned run. Parrott, who has won three of his four starts, struggled in his last outing over the weekend, while Sager has not pitched in nearly two weeks while suffering from some stiffness in his right arm.
Should Sager not be available this weekend, junior righty Kevin Cameron (Joliet, Ill.), 2-0, 1.50, 1 SV, would likely step into the starting rotation. One of the veterans of the Tech bullpen, Cameron went 2-0 in two starts last week and did not allow an earned run in 13.0 innings.
“The guy that I was most impressed with last week was Kevin Cameron,” said Hall. “I think that he’s asserted himself as one of our starting pitchers, and the fact that he didn”t give up an earned run in two starts last week was a great confidence builder. Steve Kelly threw great on Friday, and I felt like we got good contributions from a lot of different people last week.”
The Tech bullpen is led by sophomore closer Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.), 0-1, 3.00, 2 SV, who has not allowed a run in his last five outings after suffering a ninth-inning loss at Rice in the opening weekend of the season. Senior Andy Mitchell (Conyers, Ga.), 1-0, 3.38, is Tech’s most experienced member of the bullpen, while Tech’s freshman class of Kyle Bakker (Omaha, Neb.), Brian Burks (Alpharetta, Ga.), Matt Lorenzo (Hartville, Ohio) and Aaron Walker (East Palestine, Ohio) have added solid contributions out of the pen in the early going. The rookie quartet has combined to allow just three earned runs in 24.2 innings of work (1.09 ERA).
The Yellow Jacket offense has had to deal with a number of injuries over the last two weeks. The team is without its top hitter, All-America Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.), .500, 4 HR, 11 RBI, until May after he suffered a broken right ankle on Feb. 23. Senior catcher Bryan Prince (Ft. Oglethorpe, Ga.), .408-4-22, has been limited to DH duty since the first weekend of the year after suffering a strained ligament in his right elbow, although he began throwing last week and may be able to return this week. In the meantime Prince’s replacement, sophomore Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .342-1-13, suffered a broken right thumb after being hit by a pitch last Wednesday and is out for at least three weeks.
“It has been a juggling act, and to this point we”ve been trying to see what is going to be our best fix while some of our guys are out,” said Hall. “The encouraging thing is that we”ve been able to continue to play very well. It’s a case where we have to experiment a little bit and try to decide what our best lineup is going to be. I”ve been leaning on putting our best defensive people on the field, because I think for us to be successful we are going to have to play good defense and pitch well. We”re still going to have to score runs, but I don”t think we”re as potent offensively as we can be without Mark Teixeira and Tyler Parker in there.”
Senior Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .327-2-13, has been Tech’s Mr. Everything during the first month of the season. After opening the year in right field, Basil briefly went to third base to replace Teixeira before being forced to move behind the plate after Prince and Parker went down.
“Jason is a versatile guy,” said Hall. “He’s a good baseball player and that allows him to be able to play a lot of positions. He has been good when he’s played third, but I think that he’s been great behind the plate. There aren”t too many guys at the pro level that can throw the way that he can. He’s thrown out every runner that has tried to steal, and he’s picked off a couple of runners, too.”
All-America second baseman Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .453-4-26, leads the Georgia Tech offense in the absence of Teixeira. Lewis is tied for the team lead with four home runs and is tops on the squad in RBI after driving in a career-best seven runs in a win over Oakland last week.
Junior Brian Jackson (Tifton, Ga.), .333-0-6, a transfer from Middle Georgia Junior College, is now the everyday starter at third base, while junior shortstop Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .435-1-17, and the first base platoon of sophomore Jason Perry (Jonesboro, Ga.), .316-3-10, and senior Derik Goffena (Sidney, Ohio), .308-0-5, round out the Georgia Tech infield.
The Tech outfield is bolstered by the return of junior Matthew Boggs (Dalton, Ga.), .436-0-12, from elbow surgery after missing all of last season. Boggs, who is one of the top leadoff hitters in college baseball, has reached base in 32 of 56 plate appearances (.571 OB%) while becoming Tech’s all-time leader in times hit by pitch (36) last weekend against Rutgers. Junior Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .447-2-10, patrols center field while senior Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .346-0-5, has taken over in right field.
SERIES VS. AUBURN AND NC STATE
Georgia Tech and Auburn have met on 214 previous occasions in a series that began in 1897, making it the second longest series in Tech history behind only Georgia. The Tigers lead the all-time series, 111-98-5, including posting a 59-36-2 mark in Auburn. The two teams are meeting for just the third time since 1989, and are playing on campus for the first time since 1989. The last meeting came in 1999 when the Tigers took a 17-12 decision in the opening game of the ACC/Disney Baseball Blast.
The Yellow Jackets lead the series with NC State, 47-36, including 24-8 mark in Atlanta. Tech has won 12 of the last 16 games in the series dating back to 1996, and the Yellow Jackets are 8-1 versus the Wolfpack in Atlanta dating back to 1995. Tech is 17-8 against NC State under head coach Danny Hall.
GEORGIA TECH BASEBALL THIS WEEK:
Tue.: at Auburn* 7 p.m.Fri.: NC STATE 4 p.m.Sat.: NC STATE 1:30 p.m.Sun.: NC STATE 1:30 p.m.
* Radio broadcast on WREK (91.1 FM)
All Times Eastern