ATLANTA–The seventh-ranked Georgia Tech baseball team wraps up its six-game homestand this week against SEC foe Auburn before traveling to No. 12 Clemson for a three-game Atlantic Coast Conference series this weekend. The Yellow Jackets, who spent the first six weeks of the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, are currently ranked No. 7 in this week’s USA Today poll.
Tech hosts Auburn on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Russ Chandler Stadium. The Yellow Jackets visit Clemson this weekend, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Friday, 7 p.m on Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Saturday night’s game will be televised live by College Sports Southeast, while all four games this week will also be broadcast live on WREK-Radio (91.1 FM in Atlanta) and on the internet at www.ramblinwreck.com.
Tech’s overall record stands at 29-10 after posting a 3-2 record last week. The Yellow Jackets are currently in fourth place in the ACC standings with an 9-6 record, trailing first-place Florida State (14-1), Clemson (8-4) and Wake Forest (11-7).
“We have four very tough games this week,” said Tech head coach Danny Hall, the 2000 Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year. “We face an Auburn team that is playing much better over the last three weeks, and their record [10-1 in the last 11 games] indicates that.
“Clemson is in a situation very similar to us in that they are trying to fight to stay in the top two or three in the ACC. We have a tough week ahead of us, but I know that our players are looking forward to it and will be up to the challenge.”
Hall is without the team’s top hitter, All-America third baseman Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.), .500, 4 HR, 11 RBI, until the end of the month with a broken right ankle. Junior Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .397-3-37, has moved from shortstop to third base while junior Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .371-9-47, slid over to shortstop from second base. Redshirt junior Matthew Boggs (Dalton, Ga.), .339-0-22, 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. Junior college transfer Brian Jackson (Tifton, Ga.), .333-0-9, has also seen action at third base and is the primary backup at the position.
Moving Boggs back to the infield has opened the door for Hall to get some other bats into the lineup, particularly freshman Matt Murton (McDonough, Ga.), .365-6-28, and senior Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .376-6-32. Both players have been key run producers in recent weeks. Since joining the starting lineup 20 games ago, Murton is batting .378-6-28, while Stockton is hitting .403-6-27 in the last 16 games.
Sophomore Jason Perry (Jonesboro, Ga.), .367-9-37, rounds out the Tech infield at first base, while senior Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .336-9-46, and junior Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .277-2-18, who start in right and center field respectively, make up the remainder of the outfield.
Senior Bryan Prince (Ft. Oglethorpe, Ga.), .385-4-48, is Tech’s everyday catcher after being limited to DH duty during the end of February and early March with a sore shoulder. Sophomore catcher Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .327-1-16, suffered a broken right thumb after being hit by a pitch on Feb. 28, but he returned to the field for the first time last week. Parker, however, was struck by a foul ball while behind the plate which resulted in a hairline fracture in his right forearm and will now miss another two to three weeks.
“The injures that we have faced have just been unbelievable,” said Hall. “We just got Tyler Parker back, and then goes right back down with a fracture. Friday night Bryan Prince was hit by a pitch, and he was forced to play at much less than 100 percent on Saturday and Sunday. Wes Rynders aggravated a rib cage injury and had to miss Saturday’s game while playing on Sunday at less that 100 percent. Victor Menocal fouled a ball off his calf and couldn’t play on Saturday.”
“They say that injuries are part of the game, but I think that we have had more than our share of really freaky injuries this season.”
On a positive note, Teixeira was removed from his walking boot last week and began some light jogging and hitting off a tee. He began hitting live batting practice last week, and the Tech medical staff feels that he could be back in as soon as two weeks.
“He is progressing very well,” said Hall. “That is certainly encouraging, and it will be great to finally get him back in the lineup.”
As a team, the Tech offense is batting a collective .352 after hitting a school-record .342 last season and the Yellow Jackets are averaging 10.5 runs per game.
Freshman southpaw Kyle Bakker (Omaha, Neb.), 1-0, 4.19, will get his second start of his young career on Tuesday night against Auburn. The 6-9 Bakker picked up a win in his first start last week against Georgia Southern when he struck out a season-best 11 batters in six innings of work in leading the Yellow Jackets to a 12-6 victory.
For the Clemson series, Tech will turn to a pair of junior right handers on Friday and Saturday in Steve Kelly (Fairfield, Ohio), 6-1, 3.33 ERA, and Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), 7-2, 4.96. Kelly paces the staff with 70.1 innings pitched and two complete games this spring, while Parrott is tied for the ACC lead with seven victories.
Kelly had a streak of 23.1 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run snapped last weekend against Wake Forest, but he still owns a 2.17 ERA in his last four starts (Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia and Maryland).
Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined. The Tech bullpen is led by sophomore closer Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.), 0-2, 2.22, 5 SV, who had a streak of 13.1 scoreless innings snapped last weekend against Wake Forest. Senior Andy Mitchell (Conyers, Ga.), 1-1, 4.41, 2 SV, is Tech’s most experienced member of the bullpen, while the remainder of staff is rounded out by junior righty Kevin Cameron (Joliet, Ill.), 5-2, 5.73, 1 SV, sophomore righty Philip Perry (Marietta, Ga.), 2-2, 7.61, and freshmen righties Brian Burks (Alpharetta, Ga.), 2-0, 3.68, 1 SV, and Matt Lorenzo (Hartville, Ohio) 3-0, 2.30, and rookie southpaw Aaron Walker (East Palestine, Ohio), 0-0, 9.72.
SERIES VS. AUBURN AND CLEMSON
Auburn: Georgia Tech and Auburn have met on 215 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, 112-98-5, although the Yellow Jackets hold a 58-45-2 lead in games played in Atlanta. The Tigers claimed a 4-0 decision on Mar. 6 in Auburn, as Hayden Gliemmo, Levale Speigner and Brandon Luna combined for a four-hit shutout.
The two teams are meeting this year for just the third and fourth times 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.
Clemson: The series between Georgia Tech and Clemson, which dated back to 1902, is deadlocked at 81-81-3 after the Yellow Jackets went 4-1 against the Tigers last season. Tech took two of three in Atlanta before winning two straight decisions over the Tigers in Fort Mill, S.C., to claim the 2000 ACC Championship.
The Yellow Jackets have struggled to a 15-33-1 record in Clemson, including just a 1-7 record at Tiger Field under head coach Danny Hall. In the last meeting in Clemson in 1999, the Tigers swept all three games by a combined score of 43-17.
GEORGIA TECH BASEBALL THIS WEEK
Tue.: AUBURN* 7 p.m.
Fri.: at Clemson* 7:15 p.m.
Sat.: at Clemson* [CSSE] 7 p.m.
Sun.: at Clemson* 2 p.m.
[CSSE] – Televised on College Sports Southeast *Radio broadcast on WREK (91.1 FM); All Times Eastern