#TGW: Dr. Triple and Mr. Hyde

April 14, 2014

Next Game: Tonight, vs. Georgia, first pitch 7:30 p.m. at Russ Chandler Stadium (CSS)

Baseball is a long game and teams pride themselves on playing all 27 outs. But they also know the importance of playing from in front — why else keep track of their record when scoring first and when opponents score first?

While scoring early and often is something of an idealistic goal, it’s one that Georgia Tech has made an almost daily occurrence.

Over its last nine games Georgia Tech has scored first eight times (the Yellow Jackets are 8-1 in those games — their eight-game winning streak was snapped Sunday afternoon), scoring in the first inning in six of the eight games.

The last three of those were against Florida State, the top-ranked team in the country, against whom, the Jackets scored early AND often, outscoring the Seminoles 10-0 in the first frame. That concluded a week in which they outscored opponents 18-1 over the game’s first three frames.

While the `Noles were going through first-inning shell-shock, Georgia Tech Coach Danny Hall was enjoying his team’s early-inning reversal of fortune.

“It’s kind of different because for most of the year it seemed like we were coming from behind a lot,” said Hall, whose team is 11-6 when scoring first and 7-4 when scoring in the first inning. “Lately we have been scoring some runs early and it definitely helps the pitchers settle in once they get some runs.”

The instigators in drawing first blood has been the tandem of junior center fielder Daniel Spingola and senior second baseman Mott Hyde.

Spingola, who has hit in 20 of his last 22 games, (he’s hit .341, 31-of- 91) went 6-for-13 in two games hitting leadoff against FSU (the other game he hit second), with five runs scored, while Hyde, who has hit in 14 of his last 15 games (.333, on 20-of-60) batted first in the finale and second on Friday and Saturday, going 4-for-11 with three runs scored and a pair of RBIs. The early-and-often theme was in full effect, as Spingola singled and scored in the first inning of all three games.

Jumping on the opposition is certainly more fun than having to come from behind, an early-season habit.

It’s something that has occurred more and more as Spingola has gotten more and more comfortable to hitting lead-off.

“I’m still adjusting to it but I think if my mindset’s right I enjoy it,” said the speedy centerfielder, who is tied for ninth in the ACC in batting (.331), is 12th in slugging (.482), is sixth in runs scored (32) and total bases (67), is ninth in stolen bases (10) and leads the conference in triples (5) — he leads the Jackets in each of those categories — and is tied for fifth in hits (46). “You get up there early and see some pitches. I’m a pretty aggressive swinger. I think I benefit from it.”

The five triples, which match his doubles total, have been something of a surprise as Spingola had six total extra-base hits (five doubles and a homer) over his first two seasons.

“It’s weird,” he said, with a laugh. “I`ve never hit this many triples. It’s fun. I like hitting triples. It feels better than home runs sometimes. Occasionally I’ll hit a home run but usually I’m just a singles, doubles guy. With my speed I can get to third. So if I get it in the right spot…I’ve just been putting it in the right spot so far.”

That’s put Hyde in the prime RBI spot when he hits behind Spingola.

“Oh, it’s awesome,” said Hyde, the active ACC leader in games played, starts, at-bats, hits, RBIs, and total bases, whose 17 RBIs in conference play lead the team. “Just having to put the ball in play and him scoring, it’s good.”

The duo also has done a good job of setting the table and getting the ball rolling for the rest of the order.

“The guys in the middle, between [team hits leader Matt] Gonzalez and [team RBI leader Thomas] Smith and [team home run leader A.J.] Murray, they’ve had some good at-bats when we get those guys on,” said Hall. “So, yeah, [Spingola and Hyde] are doing a nice job.”

The duo has especially turned things up in ACC play.

They’re both in the top 10 in conference play in batting average, hits, and stolen bases. Hyde is among the leaders in RBIs, on-base percentage, and sacrifice flies, and Spingola ranks in runs, triples, total bases.

Their helping the Jackets get early leads, even has made the first inning more fun for the pitchers — Georgia Tech pitchers, anyway.

“It makes it so much more comfortable to go out there,” said lefty Devin Stanton, the beneficiary of Saturday’s onslaught. “First of all it gets your enthusiasm up, it gets you enjoying the game when you’re seeing the hitters hitting doubles, scoring runs. It makes it a lot more fun. Then you go out there and you’re just in a better mood, you’re just joyful and ready to compete. It makes it a lot more comfortable.”

Stanton will get a front-row seat tonight, when Spingola and Hyde and Co., which has scored in double-digits three times in five games last week, sets its sights on Georgia, looking to even this year’s series, and avenge a March 4, 1-0 loss, in Athens.

“We definitely do (owe them one),” said Hyde. “It’s always a big game.”

“I think we’ll do better against them this time,” added Spingola. “I’m sure they’re playing well, too, so it will be fun.”

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