#TGW: Searching For Identity

Feb. 15, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

Saturday was one of those irreconcilable days where what you saw looking through the window did not match conditions once out in them. It was one of those, “Mama always said there would be days like this,” kinda days.

Brilliant sunshine and blue skies were over Russ Chandler Stadium, yet it was cool. As the sun fell out of the picture and a breeze never died, it felt better suited for crabbing off New England’s coast than for Georgia Tech to play baseball.

It was raw, like the Yellow Jackets. They had to play.

This is a youngish group, and possessed of so many moving parts that head coach Danny Hall worked from the dugout rather than the third base coaching box as his team fell 3-1 to Radford in the second game of the season.

This season has begun with a distinctly different view; this is the first of Hall’s 21 teams at Tech to open the spring — if that’s what this is called — unranked.

From just below field level, he feels he can better assess his inventory. His squad is presently in need of serious assessment so assistant Bryan Prince threw offensive switches from the box.

Generally, it was as if he flipped circuit breakers . . . off. Prince is no king just yet.

Tech did not scratch out a hit until the seventh inning, finished with but two and scored its only run in an inning without either of those knocks.

“I just kind of felt like I wanted to spend more time in the dugout,” the boss said. “I think there’s a lot of coaching that has to go one. We have a learning curve; we’ve got to learn as we go. We knew there would be days like this, and we’ve got to be better [Sunday].”

Hall does not yet recognize his team, which according to junior shortstop Mott Hyde may not recognize itself. The Jackets (1-1) were not feeling themselves.

“Easily two people could start at each position,” said Hyde, whose infield single in the ninth was the Jackets’ second hit. “That’s a good problem to have, but right now we’re still trying to find ourselves and get comfortable with one another.”

During the game, a friend who has lived on the other side of the country for many years messaged from Seattle, “Who’s Radford?”

The Highlanders hail from Radford, Va., about 15 miles from Virginia Tech in the southwestern finger of the state, which explains in part how once upon a time – for a long time, actually – Radford was part of VPI&SU.

Initially a women’s college, then a school for teachers, during World War II it became the women’s version of Virginia Tech – which did not admit the gentler gender.

Virginia Tech began allowing women in the early 1960s and soon a split birthed Radford College. Later came Radford University, whose Highlanders are now a Division I program that plays in the Big South conference.

Obviously, there are boys there now among the student population of more than 8,000, and one of them, righthanded pitcher Dylon Nelson, fairly flummoxed the Jackets Saturday by way of six no-hit innings.

“He pitched a good game, had the ball sinking,” Hall said of the sophomore. “We just couldn’t do anything with it.”

There was word in the press box that Nelson beat Virginia last season. Confirming that was difficult, but this was not: as a freshman, he was 6-3 with a 7.63 ERA, 62 hits allowed in 48.1 innings, and 23 strikeouts and an equal number of walks allowed.

This was not Don Drysdale, or even Pat Zachary.

Yet Tech scored upon him only because in the fourth inning he walked two batters and hit another before left fielder Matt Gonzalez drove a ball . . . right at Radford centerfielder Blake Sipe.

Tech second baseman Thomas Smith scored on the sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead, but that would be the first of the Jackets’ two offensive highlights and the only one to push a run across the plate.

Cole Pitts went five innings for the Jackets and was not as sharp as he will be in allowing six hits and one earned run.

Tech simply looked uncomfortable while being out-hit 11-2, committing the game’s only two errors (with a couple other hard-hit balls that may have been playable) and generally just playing ball as if half frozen.

Truth be told, it was Radford weather.

Maybe that was the issue.

“It does [affect the game],” Hyde said of the weather. “Your hands get cold. You have to keep your mind into it.”

Tech freshman pitcher Zac Ryan relieved to start the top of the sixth. He walked the first batter he faced, and after striking out the next, a passed ball put a runner in scoring position.

The next batter singled in the winning run. That was that because the breakers kept cracking when the Jackets were at bat.

Nelson went six scoreless for Radford. After his 78th pitch, Michael Costello entered in the 7th.

Promptly, first baseman A.J. Murray crushed a ball off the left-centerfield wall. Were the air not so cold and dense, it would have been a home run.

That produced nothing, however. Gonzalez popped up in the infield. Freshman third baseman Brandon Gold grounded out to short. And freshman designated hitter Elliott Barzilli struck out.

Hyde’s infield single in the ninth did not produce any serious threat.

The Jackets started three freshmen Saturday. The losing relief pitcher, Ryan, is a freshman. Arden Pabst, a freshman, finished the game behind the plate.

There are dozens of games to go, and there is confidence. Quiet, perhaps slightly confused confidence.

“It’s a young team, and I think we’re going to get comfortable and do some good things,” Hyde said.

The boss agrees. Hall is not happy about being unranked, and he was rankled after falling Saturday. He didn’t waste much time dwelling. A win today over VCU (2-0) at 2 p.m. will a solid winter salve, perhaps something to “spring” the Jackets forward.

“I think everybody looked at losing [pitcher] Buck Farmer and then the position players we lost and figures, well, Georgia Tech is not going to be as good this year,” the coach said. “The margin for error is a lot less in all of college baseball. It is early, but we’ve got to play a lot better than we played today.”

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