ATLANTA (Apr. 2) — The third-ranked Georgia Tech baseball team hosts cross town foe Georgia State before traveling to Duke this weekend for a three-game Atlantic Coast Conference series. The Yellow Jackets, who spent the first six weeks of the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, are currently ranked No. 3 in this week’s Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball polls.
Tech hosts the Panthers on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Russ Chandler Stadium. The Yellow Jackets visit the Blue Devils this weekend, with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. on Sunday. All four games this week will be broadcast live on WREK-Radio (91.1 FM in Atlanta) and on the internet at www.ramblinwreck.com.
After opening the ACC season with a 1-2 mark against NC State, the Yellow Jackets have rebounded to win five of their last six against Maryland and Virginia to move to 6-3 in the league race. Tech’s overall record now stands at 23-7.
“It’s a week where we need to keep progressing and improving,” said Tech head coach Danny Hall, the 2000 Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year. “Georgia State battled us hard in the first game on their field. Duke is playing much better, and it*s a key series for us to continue to play well in the ACC. We need to try to stay close to Florida State, who certainly got the jump on everybody in the league.”
After losing the team’s top hitter, All-America third baseman Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.), .500, 4 HR, 11 RBI, until May with a broken right ankle, Hall juggled Tech*s infield three weeks ago. Junior Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .411-2-28, has moved from shortstop to third base while junior Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .375-6-39, slid over to shortstop from second base. Redshirt junior Matthew Boggs (Dalton, Ga.), .330-0-18, who has played primarily in the outfield this year after starting at second base in 1998 and 1999, has returned to his old position at second base. Menocal, who has been one of Tech*s hottest hitters of late, Lewis and Boggs have started each of the last eight games at their new positions.
Moving Boggs back to the infield has opened the door for Hall to get some other bats into the lineup, particularly sophomore Jon Henry Kail (Pittsburgh, Pa.), .371-1-14, and freshman Matt Murton (McDonough, Ga.), .362-2-13. Both are outfielders and they constitute the biggest power threats in the Tech lineup while Teixeira is on the shelf. Senior Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .367-2-19, who has also seen more at bats since the shuffle, gives Hall the luxury of adding another left handed bat into the lineup.
Sophomore Jason Perry (Jonesboro, Ga.), .326-6-27, rounds out the Tech infield at first base, while senior Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .321-5-30, and junior Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .248-2-14, who start in right and center field respectively, make up the remainder of the outfield.
Senior Bryan Prince (Ft. Oglethorpe, Ga.), .414-4-44, has returned from an elbow injury to retake his place as Tech’s everyday catcher. Prince, who was limited to DH duty in 16 of the first 18 games of the season, has started 12 of Tech’s last 13 games behind the plate. Sophomore catcher Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .342-1-13, suffered a broken right thumb after being hit by a pitch on Feb. 28, but he could be cleared to play as early as this week.
“Tyler Parker has been able to take some batting practice,” said Hall. “He will be reevaluated again by the doctors this week, and if they clear him then he will be able to start throwing a little more and start facing some live pitching. We hope to start working him back into the lineup soon.
“In Mark Teixeira’s case, he had a great doctor’s report last week. He is off crutches and his rehab work is starting to pick up even more. There is a chance now if his rehab goes really well then we may have him back even before the first of May.”
Junior righty Brian Sager (Branford, Conn.), 1-0, 8.27, will start on Tuesday night against Georgia State in the second start since coming back from an arm injury. Sager has made just four appearances for the Yellow Jackets this season after being sidelined with stiffness in his right arm for three weeks. Sager made his return to the mound last week against Mercer, and he is cleared to throw approximately 65 pitches on Tuesday.
“I’m anxious to see Brian Sager pitch,” said Hall. “His arm is finally healthy and the biggest thing now is that we need to get him out there. I expect him to start throwing much better and throw like we know that he can.”
For the Duke series, Tech will turn to a pair of junior right-handers on Friday and Saturday in Steve Kelly (Fairfield, Ohio), 4-1, 3.04 ERA, and Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), 7-1, 4.35. Kelly paces the staff with 56.1 innings pitched and two complete games this spring, while Parrott is tied for the ACC lead with seven victories. Both players pitched well in their most recent start against Virginia last weekend, teaming allow just three earned runs in 15 innings.
Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined, but it will likely be Sager or junior righty Kevin Cameron (Joliet, Ill.), 4-1, 5.09, 1 SV. Cameron, who has started in Sager’s absence, has been impressive in four of his six starts.
The Tech bullpen is led by sophomore closer Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.), 0-1, 1.59, 4 SV, who has not allowed a run in 13 of his last 14 outings after suffering a ninth-inning loss at Rice in the opening weekend of the season. Senior Andy Mitchell (Conyers, Ga.), 1-1, 2.84, 2 SV, 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 18 earned runs in 54 innings of work (2.83 ERA).
“I think our pitching is coming along very well,” said Hall. “Kelly and Parrott both had great starts last weekend in Virginia, and I thought Kevin Cameron pitched very well especially given the rainy weather conditions. We also have gotten some great relief work over the last few weeks. All in all, I feel our staff is shaping up very nicely.”
SERIES VS. GEORGIA STATE AND DUKE
Georgia State: Georgia Tech leads the all-time series with Georgia State, 38-5, after taking an 11-3 decision on Mar. 13 on the Panthers’ home field. The Yellow Jackets have won 16 of the last 17 games in the series dating back to 1993. Tech is 23-1 versus Georgia State at Russ Chandler Stadium, including winning each of the last 20 games played on the Yellow Jackets* home field. The Yellow Jackets are 15-1 against the Panthers under head coach Danny Hall.
Duke: Georgia Tech leads Duke, 53-21, in a series that dates back to 1903. The two teams split four meetings a year ago, with the Blue Devils taking two of three in Atlanta before the Yellow Jackets won a 9-3 decision in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. Tech is 18-7 in games played in Durham, and the Yellow Jackets are 18-6 against Duke under Hall.
GEORGIA TECH BASEBALL THIS WEEK:
Tue.: GEORGIA STATE* – 7 p.m.
Fri.: at Duke* – 7 p.m.
Sat.: at Duke* – 7 p.m.
Sun.: at Duke* – 1 p.m.
*Radio broadcast on WREK (91.1 FM)
* All Times Eastern