ATLANTA (March 12) – Looking to regroup after losing three of four games last week, the fourth-ranked Georgia Tech baseball team visits local foe Georgia State and hosts Kent in a three-game series this week. After spending five weeks to start the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, the Yellow Jackets slipped to No. 4 in this week*s Baseball America poll.
Tech visits Georgia State on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at DeKalb South Field in Panthersville. The Yellow Jackets host Kent for a three game weekend series at Russ Chandler Stadium, and all three games will be broadcast live on WREK-Radio (91.1 FM in Atlanta) and on the internet at www.ramblinwreck.com. First pitch on Friday is set for 7 p.m., while the Saturday and Sunday contests will begin at 1:30 p.m. each day.
“It’s a week where we need to get back on track,” said Tech head coach Danny Hall, the 2000 Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year. “We definitely stubbed our toe last weekend and didn’t play as good as we can play or as good as we need to play [in losses to Auburn and NC State].
“We lost at Georgia State last year, and I know that they have a good team and will be ready to play. Every year that Kent has come to play in Atlanta, they have battled us tough. They are off to a little bit of a slow start, but they are picked to win their league. I came from that league, and I know how good the baseball is there.”
Sophomore righty Philip Perry (Marietta, Ga.), 1-1, 5.79 ERA, will get the starting nod on Tuesday at Georgia State. Perry pitched well in his last start at Auburn last week (7 IP, 3 ER) despite taking the loss after falling victim to no run support.
For the Kent series, Tech will turn to a pair of junior right-handers on Friday and Saturday in Steve Kelly (Fairfield, Ohio), 2-0, 3.89 ERA, and Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), 4-1, 5.34. Kelly, who leads the staff with 34.2 innings pitched this spring, struggled in his last start against NC State where he allowed six runs in six innings of work. Parrott, however, was impressive last weekend when he held the Wolfpack to just one run in eight innings of work.
Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined, but it will be one of two junior righties in Brian Sager (Branford, Conn.), 1-0, 7.07, or Kevin Cameron (Joliet, Ill.), 2-1, 4.58, 1 SV. Sager pitched last weekend for the first time in nearly three weeks after suffering from some stiffness in his right arm. Cameron, who started in Sager’s absence, was impressive in two starts against Oakland and Rutgers before failing to get out of the second inning on Sunday versus NC State.
“You never want to struggle in the conference, and last weekend was disappointing,” said Hall. “The most discouraging thing was the way that we pitched, and we need to do a better job in that area or we could have a lot of struggling weekends. I know we are better than what we showed last weekend, and we will certainly work hard to get better.”
The Tech bullpen is led by sophomore closer Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.), 0-1, 3.38, 2 SV, who has not allowed a run in six of his last seven outings after suffering a ninth-inning loss at Rice in the opening weekend of the season. Senior Andy Mitchell (Conyers, Ga.), 1-1, 3.68, 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 nine earned runs in 29.1 innings of work (2.76 ERA).
The Yellow Jacket offense has had to deal with a number of injuries over the last several 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. Sophomore catcher Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .342-1-13, suffered a broken right thumb after being hit by a pitch on Feb. 28 and is out for at least one more week.
The team did get some good news on the injury front, however, as senior catcher Bryan Prince (Ft. Oglethorpe, Ga.), .431-4-26, returned behind the plate last Saturday. Prince had been limited to DH duty since the first weekend of the year after suffering a strained ligament in his right elbow.
“It was great that Bryan was able to catch a game last weekend,” Hall said. “There is no question that we’re a much better team when he catches, and we’re also a better team when Tyler Parker is in there. It looks like Tyler is out for one more week, and hopefully we will be able to ease him back in the lineup next week.
“With Bryan in the game, it allows us to play guys in their natural position. He brings a lot of leadership to our team, and it was good to see him out there. I think that it is still the case where we will need to pick spots for him, because I don’t think he’s at the point yet where he can catch every day.”
Senior Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .319-4-26, 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.
All-America second baseman Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .438-4-28, leads the Georgia Tech offense in the absence of Teixeira. Lewis, who has moved to the No. 3 hole in the batting order, is tied for the team lead with four home runs and is tops on the squad in RBI.
Junior Brian Jackson (Tifton, Ga.), .306-0-6, a transfer from Middle Georgia Junior College, is now the everyday starter at third base, while junior shortstop Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .379-1-17, and the first base platoon of sophomore Jason Perry (Jonesboro, Ga.), .308-3-12, and senior Derik Goffena (Sidney, Ohio), .267-0-5, round out the Georgia Tech infield.
The Tech outfield is bolstered by the return of junior Matthew Boggs (Dalton, Ga.), .382-0-13, 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 38 of 74 plate appearances (.514 OB%) and he is Tech’s all-time leader in times hit by pitch (37). Junior Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .292-2-12, patrols center field while senior Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .323-0-5, is the regular starter in right field when Basil moves behind the plate. Sophomore Jon Henry Kail (Pittsburgh, Pa.), .550-1-13, started two games last weekend and responded with a home run and five RBI in eight at bats.
SERIES VS. GEORGIA STATE AND KENT
Georgia State: Georgia Tech leads the all-time series with Georgia State, 37-5, and the two schools have played at least twice annually every year since 1979. The Yellow Jackets and Panthers split a pair of games last season, with Georgia State winning 4-3 in Panthersville, and Tech taking a 14-4 decision at Russ Chandler Stadium. The Yellow Jackets, who have won 15 of the last 16 games in the series, are 14-1 versus the Panthers under head coach Danny Hall.
Kent: Hall coached at Kent from 1988 through 1993 and compiled a 208-117 record and led the Golden Flashes to back-to-back NCAA Regional appearances in 1992 and 1993. Tech and Kent have played on seven previous occasions, and the Yellow Jackets lead the series 5-2. The two schools last met in 1999 when Tech won two of three games at Russ Chandler Stadium.
GEORGIA TECH BASEBALL THIS WEEK:
Tue.: at Georgia State 4 p.m.Fri.: KENT* 7 p.m.Sat.: KENT* 1:30 p.m.Sun.: KENT* 1:30 p.m.
*Radio broadcast on WREK (91.1 FM)
All Times Eastern