April 13, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
It didn’t work out the way Georgia Tech would have preferred Saturday afternoon, when Virginia beat the Yellow Jackets 7-2 to square a big baseball series at one game each.
After watching the No. 5 Cavaliers work their way around against a solid pitcher in Dusty Isaacs, it was easier to appreciate what Buck Farmer did Friday night. He’s 50 percent of the Tech seniors who were highly drafted but chose to return to school. His presence and that of centerfielder Brandon Thomas have a lot to do with Tech’s fortune.
Farmer got the complete-game win as the Jackets kicked off the series with a 2-1 victory, and although he allowed 10 hits, he did a masterful job of spreading them around. Oh, and eight of them were singles. Virginia’s lone run came after one of the two doublers moved from second to third on a Farmer wild pitch, and the next batter grounded out.
Other than that errant pitch, Farmer was, well, himself. Nothing changed. No unique approach just because the Cavs (31-5, 13-4 ACC) are so highly ranked, and ahead of the Jackets (25-10, 10-7) in the ACC Coastal standings. Just business. That’s Buck.
“It really doesn’t change. I try to keep the same mindset every Friday,” he said Saturday.
Well, that’s nice, but being the human that he is, Farmer bent a little when pressed and admitted that Friday’s game against the Cavs had a special hue to it. External circumstances beyond the obvious (the rankings and ACC standings) made it so.
“When you’re coming into a series like this . . . I think this is a series that can really make or break a season,” he said. “I guess it changes because you want to go out there and perform your best and hopefully get that win to start the series right.”
The Jackets started off the season right, but have slipped recently. It comes down to bats and Thomas – although a third senior, Sam Dove, is a big part of the Jackets.
Tech was 14-1 and then 17-2 and leading the nation or among the leaders in a slew of offensive statistics.
They’re 8-8 since.
Some of this is attributable to Thomas missing nine straight games with mononucleosis. He returned for a Wednesday win at Georgia, where he was a designated hitter. He played center Friday against Virginia, but sat Saturday other than his service as a DH.
With Thomas as DH, the Jackets lost Saturday. He’ll play Sunday, when the rubber match goes off at 1 p.m. at Russ Chandler Stadium.
Tech is 20-6 with a .337 batting average with Thomas in the lineup, and 5-4 with a .265 batting average when he’s out. You couldn’t tell Saturday, at least by raw numbers, but the Jackets are much better with BT around.
Sometimes, you can make too much out of numbers.
The keys to Tech’s win Friday were Farmer and defense. Evans threw out two baserunners, the Jackets turned two double plays, and Wren threw out a runner at the plate from left field.
As with all sports, player confidence has a great deal to do with performance.
“Absolutely . . . when I know I have defense like that behind, being able to be comfortable out there and throw a ground ball or a fly ball . . . I don’t have to worry about being perfect,” he said. “I can trust my defense to get those guys out.”
There is a long way to go this season (21 more regular season games), including an extremely-rare, late-season non-conference road trip for games at Ohio State (May 7-8).
Some things are clear, however. The Jackets lean on Farmer, Thomas, Evans and consistency. Seven players have started every game (Evans, A.J. Murray, Matt Gonzalez, Dove, Mott Hyde, Wren and Daniel Palka) either in the field or at DH.
The Jackets have some wiggle room if not much. They won Friday behind Farmer, and that makes a difference in the way the rest of the weekend rolls.
“Winning on Friday night, any team will tell you, is big. You can go into Saturday and Sunday more comfortable,’ Farmer said. “Now, we can just go after them. We knew they would do everything right. They’re like Florida State. They don’t have those big power guys . . . if you make a mistake, they’re going to put it over the fence.”