The On-Deck Circle

March 17, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

No. 21 Georgia Tech (14-4, 3-0) vs. North Carolina State (10-7, 1-2)

Friday: Mark Pope (4-0, 0.29) vs. Cory Mazzoni (1-1, 3.29), 7:00 p.m.
Saturday: Jed Bradley (2-0, 1.85) vs. Danny Healey (1-1, 3.97), 4:00 p.m.
Sunday: Buck Farmer (2-1, 1.96) vs. Ethan Ogburn (0-1, 3.97), 1:00 p.m.

Georgia Tech will try to make its second ACC series of the season as successful as its first, when the North Carolina State Wolfpack comes to Russ Chandler Stadium this weekend.

Tech has won nine in a row, after walloping Georgia Southern, 12-3, on Wednesday afternoon to sweep the midweek mini-series. The Jackets used an eight-run second to put the game away early. Freshman centerfielder Kyle Wren continued his blazing start, going 4-for-4 to raise his season batting average to a team-leading .444, with four runs scored, while fellow freshmen Daniel Palka and Zane Evans each drove in three runs. The Wolfpack has won two straight, following Wednesday afternoon’s 9-1 pounding of Georgia Mason. Junior Pratt Maynard went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, as State scored in each of the first five innings. Redshirt senior Rob Chamra went 5 1/3, allowing a run on three hits to get the win. The ‘Pack lost its initial ACC series last weekend at Duke.

Georgia Tech holds a 65-46 all-time edge in the series.

Last Time We Met: Georgia Tech had no answer for State pitching in losing two of three in a hard-fought series last year at Doak Field in Raleigh. State took the opener, 6-5, behind Jake Buchanan, who struck out a career-high 13 in 7 2/3 innings to top Tech ace Deck McGuire. McGuire, who struck out eight in six innings also allowed a career-high 10 hits. Thomas Nichols went 2-for-4 for Tech with two homers and three RBIs. State clinched its first series win since 2006 the next day as Cory Mazzoni allowed only four hits over seven innings. Tech committed three errors in the 4-2 loss. Tech salvaged the finale, behind Jed Bradley, who threw six innings of three-hit ball, and Matt Skole’s hot hitting. Skole went 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs.

Top of the Heap: There’s no secret to Georgia Tech’s success thus far in 2011 — good hitting and good pitching. Through 18 games, the Yellow Jackets are the top hitting team in the ACC, boasting a .326 team batting average, with a league-high 203 hits and a .460 slugging average (third). They’re also fifth in on-base percentage (.408). Tech’s fifth in homers (10), and sixth in runs (123). Freshman Kyle Wren (.444) is third in the conference, while sophomore Brandon Thomas (.387) is sixth. The Jackets also are getting it done on the mound. They are the only team to have a complete game — Mark Pope has both. The Jackets’ 2.12 ERA, .206 opposing batting average, and 37 earned runs are second behind only Virginia. Tech pitchers have whiffed 169, third in the conference.

Mark-ed Man: How good has ace Mark Pope been? He was named ACC Player of the Week and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s National Player of the Week. Pope leads the ACC with a 0.29 ERA (1 earned run in 30 2/3 innings, with more strikeouts (25) than hits allowed (19). He is the only pitcher in ACC to go the distance this season and has the ACC’s only shutouts this year. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last three starts, covering 25 innings, and has walked only one batter in those starts, while striking out 19. In his last two starts, both complete-game shutouts, Pope had nearly identical lines, allowing four hits, striking out six, walking none. He faced two batters over the minimum against Rutgers and was three batters over against Maryland. Pope could make school history should he beat N.C. State. He heads into the game with a career record of 17-2. The Georgia Tech record for winning percentage (minimum 10 wins) is held by Ed LaFitte, who went 18-2 in his two years at Tech. LaFitte pitched for Tech in 1906 and ’07.

The Pen Is Mightier: Georgia Tech relievers are not getting a lot of action, but are making quick work of opponents when they do. Heading into the weekend, Tech’s relief corps has a collective 1.48 ERA (4 runs in 24 1/3 innings), over its last seven appearances, having allowed only 15 hits. That includes Wednesday’s game against Georgia Southern, when nine different relievers combined to throw seven innings without allowing an earned run. The ‘pen has contributed to the Jackets’ 14-1 record when leading or tied after five innings and 14-0 mark when up after eight.

Selling the Brandon: Brandon Thomas has taken off in his sophomore season. Thomas, who got in 32 games as a freshman (24 starts), needed half that many appearances and 27 fewer at-bats in 2011 to match his 2010 hits total (22 — he surpassed that on Tuesday against Georgia Southern) and doubles (4). He’s also surpassed his freshman-stolen base total (7). Thomas is hitting .387 through 18 games, 125 points higher than 2010, has an on-base percentage of .466, 81 points higher than last year, and his .484 slugging average is up 103 points. He’s driven in 12 runs, one away from matching last season’s total. One thing that has not changed for Thomas from his debut season is his fielding. He still has not made an error in 50 collegiate games, having successfully handled all 28 chances he’s had this year and all 62 in his college career.

On Deck: Georgia Tech hits the road all next week, going to Athens to take on Georgia on Tuesday then visiting Miami next weekend. N.C. State hosts Northwestern Tuesday and Wednesday then Clemson over the weekend.

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