The On-Tech Circle: No. 25 Georgia Tech (24-14, 10-8) at Maryland (22-13, 7-10)

April 17, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Pitching Matchups
Friday: Josh Heddinger, RHP (2-1, 4.58), RHP vs. Jake Stinnett, RHP (3-5, 2.77), 6:30 p.m. (ET)
Saturday Devin Stanton, LHP (3-1, 2.58) vs. Mike Shawaryn, RHP (6-2, 2.77), 2:00 p.m. (ET)
Sunday: Matt Grimes, RHP (4-1, 3.32) vs. Jake Drossner, LHP (4-0, 2.05), 1:00 p.m. (ET)

No. 25 Georgia Tech looks to continue its red-hot April this weekend as it hits the road for the first of seven straight games, stopping in College Park to play Maryland. First pitch tonight at Shipley Field at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s game starts at 2:00 and Sunday’s series finale begins at 1:00.

The Yellow Jackets, who have won nine of 10 games in April, used the strong pitching of freshman Ben Parr and a three-run first inning to beat Georgia, 4-1, Tuesday night at Russ Chandler Stadium. The win was the Jackets’ fourth straight in midweek games and their sixth in seven games. They’re now 7-4 on the season in midweek games after starting 0-3. Parr matched his career-high, throwing six innings, allowing only four hits and walking two, while striking out seven. Only one Georgia runner got past first base against him. The Jackets continued their first-inning production, scoring three runs, on a Matt Gonzalez RBI double and bases-loaded walks to ACC Player of the Week Connor Justus and Ryan Peurifoy. Mott Hyde added an RBI single in the sixth for Tech’s final run. The Jackets are looking to win their fifth ACC series in their last six.

The Terrapins, who are 1-5 in ACC series and have dropped three straight, are coming off an 11-4 midweek thrashing of Navy on Wednesday night at “Turtle” Smith Stadium. Third baseman Jose Cuas had two hits, scored two runs and drove in four, with his team-leading fourth homer and a two-run double as Maryland used a four-run fourth and a five-run seventh to record the victory over the Midshipmen. Cuas’ two-run blast capped the fourth-inning rally that turned around what had been a 1-0 game for Navy. His two-run double in the seventh keyed the five-run uprising. Shortstop Blake Schmit and DH Nick Cieri each had three hits, with Schmit driving in three runs and scoring two more. Zach Morris earned the win, allowing two runs (one earned) and five hits over five innings.

Georgia Tech-Maryland, which concludes with this series, dates back to 1921 with the Yellow Jackets holding a 71-24 all-time lead (24-17 in College Park). The Jackets have won nine of the last 10 games and seven of the last nine series at Maryland. This will be the first meeting between the schools since 2011.

There will be no television coverage but Jackets fans can catch every pitch on WREK 91.1 FM. Live stats are available on Gametracker, also on RamblinWreck.com.

Let’s play ball!

Last time We Met: The last time Georgia Tech and Maryland hooked up was March 11-13, 2011 at Russ Chandler Stadium, and resulted in a Yellow Jackets sweep. The Jackets opened the series with a thrilling 1-0 win, behind Mark Pope, who threw a complete-game, four-hit shutout, striking out six and not walking a batter. The game’s only run came in the fourth. Following back-to-back, two-out walks to load the bases, freshman Kyle Wren blooped a two-out single to center, to score Brandon Thomas. Pope, who extended his scoreless streak to 25 1/3 innings, did the rest. He retired 12 straight hitters, then escaped a ninth-inning jam, aided by shortstop Jacob Esch’s heads-up play, throwing out the lead runner at third on a one-out grounder. Saturday’s game was decided early, as the Jackets scored in five of the first six innings, including plating a pair in each of the first two innings, in a 9-3 rout. Wren hurt the Terps again, going 5-for-5 — falling only a double short of hitting for the cycle — scoring three times and driving in two runs. Esch, Jake Davies and Daniel Palka each had two hits for the Jackets, who pounded out 15, with Davies and Palka also going yard. Jed Bradley was the beneficiary of the offense, allowing one earned run (three total) and five hits over seven innings, recording 11 punch-outs. Tech completed the sweep, with a 6-2 win on Sunday. Sophomore Buck Farmer fired eight shutout innings, allowing seven hits while striking out six. Freshman Zane Evans drove in three runs and junior Matt Skole drove in two to lead the offense. Freshman Mott Hyde went 2-for-3 and scored a pair of runs. Esch’s RBI single and Skole’s two-run double gave Tech a 3-0 lead in the third. They’d double the lead in the fifth on Evans’ bases-clearing double to right. Freshman Dusty Isaacs got the final two outs to close out a series in which Jackets pitching allowed five runs, only three of them earned.

Heart Beating Strong: March 18 may turn out to be an important turning point for of the 2014 season because of a minor a tweak to the batting order. The Jackets, 11-8 on the season heading into that night’s game at Kennesaw State, and had been held to three-or-fewer runs eight times when Head coach Danny Hall moved Thomas Smith into the clean-up spot behind Matt Gonzalez and batted A.J. Murray fifth. In the 19 games since the move, the Jackets are 13-6, and the trio has hit a combined .315 (70-for-22), with 39 runs scored, and 39 RBIs. All three have been very consistent, as Gonzalez is hitting .325 (26-for-80), best among the trio, with Murray next at .319 (23-for-72), and Smith batting .300 (21-for-70). Murray is the leading run-producer, with 16 RBIs, with Smith (13) on his tail, and Gonzalez right there with 10. All three also have touched the plate plenty, as Gonzalez and Smith have each scored 14 runs, with Murray scoring 11 times. They’ve combined for 21 multi-hit games (Smith, 8, Gonzalez, 7, Murray, 6) and have been all but impossible for opposing pitchers to shut down at once, as in only one game, have all three gone hitless. That was April 6, against Duke, and the Jackets still won the game, 1-0. Consistency has over-ruled power in this stretch, something unusual for 3-4-5 hitters, as they’ve hit only two homers (both by Murray), with 15 doubles, a triple.

Flashing The Leather: The winner of this series shouldn’t expect any help as both Georgia Tech and Maryland rank among the best teams in the ACC in defense. Georgia Tech boasts a .971 fielding percentage (fourth in the conference), with 45 errors on the season (fifth). They’ve turned double plays in 15 of their last 17 games and have gone only 10 games all season without turning one. Maryland is pickin’ `em at .979 and has committed only 27 miscues (both second in the ACC). The Terps are one of only two teams in the ACC to commit fewer than 30 errors. The Jackets’ defense has really come on, as over their last 20 games, during which they are 14-6, as they’re fielding at a .981 clip, having turned 26 double plays and played error-free nine times. Comparatively, over the season’s first 17 games, Tech was 9-8, fielding .957, having turned 18 DPs with only a pair of error-free games.

Tech-nicalities: Matt Gonzalez’s ability to drive in runners has over-shadowed his propensity for throwing them out defensively. Gonzalez comes into the weekend with seven outfield assists, tops in the ACC and tied for second in the nation. He tied the school-record by chalking up two assists on March 2 against Bowling Green, becoming the 11th Jackets outfielder to do so (the first since Kyle Wren on May 16, 2013 at Miami) and is only two OFAs shy of tying the school single-season mark, set by Jeff Kindel in 2006.

On Deck: Georgia Tech looks to even its season series with Mercer on Tuesday, when it travels to Macon to take on the Bears, then visits Chapel Hill for a weekend series against Coastal Division rival North Carolina. Maryland heads to Morgantown on Tuesday for a midweek clash with West Virginia, hosts George Mason on Wednesday, then visits Chestnut Hill for a weekend set with Boston College.

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