True Believer

April 23, 2010

By Jon Cooper
RamblinWreck.com

If there’s one thing you can be sure of in baseball, it’s that you can never be sure of anything. But if you believe hard enough anything can happen.

Take last Friday against Clemson at Russ Chandler Stadium.

With the score tied 6-6, Georgia Tech had two out and nobody on in the bottom of the 10th. The Jackets had managed little off Tigers pitching over the previous three innings. All that stood between going to the 11th inning was Matt Skole.

Skole knew he could do something. He’d driven in a career-high five runs in a four-hit game against Georgia two nights earlier. On Friday night, he was 1-for-3, having homered in the second inning. He wouldn’t get that second hit. He wouldn’t even get an official at-bat. Yet he changed everything.

It was a situation he’d discussed in passing prior to practice the previous afternoon, when he talked about the advantage of hitting fifth in Tech’s power-laden order.

“It gives me a good chance to drive in runs and get our offense going when I need to lead off an inning or something,” he said. “Tony [Plagman] hits three, Cole [Leonida] hits fourth and then I’ve got another red-hot hitter behind me in Chase Burnette. I can easily get lost in that lineup.”

Clemson reliever David Haselden lost Skole – walking him on a 3-2 pitch after the sophomore fought off a couple of tough pitches and took another very close pitch with at 2-2. Haselden then lost the game when Burnette drove a 2-1 pitch over the wall in right-center. Game over, 8-6, Tech.

That walk is typical of the 2010 Matt Skole, whose plate discipline has resulted in a .364 batting average (third amongst starters and 15th in the ACC), a .475 on-base percentage (second on the team, 11th in the conference), 31 walks (tops on the team and fifth in the conference), and only 22 strikeouts (tied with Thomas Nichols and behind only Derek Dietrich’s 19 among starters).

These positives have come without any drop-off in power, as his 12 round-trippers and .721 slugging average are third on the team and rank fourth and fifth in the conference (the Jackets boast six of the ACC’s top 10 sluggers).

It’s shown just how far he’s come since his freshman year.

“He’s doing a much better job of putting the ball in play, he’s doing a much better job of hitting the ball to the opposite field,” said Head Coach Danny Hall. “That’s why his average is up there and I think that’s why you’re seeing fewer strikeouts.”

“Being a freshman was tough. I hadn’t seen pitching at the college level,” said Skole, who struck out a team-high 69 times last season, 21 more than the nearest teammate, which, ironically was Dietrich. “After going through that, I really worked in the off-season on putting the ball in play with two strikes, going the other way and hitting the ball up the middle. It’s paid off because when you put the ball in play good things can happen.

“That’s a big part of the game,” he continued. “You’re not going to hit every day. You’re going to have days when you’re not doing so well but if you can draw walks and get on base and put pressure on the defense it gives you a chance to win the game.”

Doesn’t sound like the approach of a slugger, but the numbers don’t lie.

Then there’s his unquestioned membership as one of the “Bash Brothers,” an honor bestowed upon him last season by Plagman and Luke Murton.

“It’s pretty tough to do for a freshman,” said Plagman. “But when you hit 17 bombs, that’s pretty impressive. So we had to let him in.”

Skole has an even tougher crowd to please at home, as his father, Michael, played baseball at Georgia Southern, his grandfather Tom, played pro ball in the St. Louis Browns’ organization, and his uncle Tony played at The Citadel.

“My uncles and my grandparents always give me stuff about how I have to live up to the ‘Skole Hype,'” he said. “But I want to be better than that. So we’ll see how it goes. It’s working out pretty well so far.”

How well?

“I’m at the top, baby,” he said and laughed. “We have a lot of great players in my family and give them that much respect. Hopefully one day I can turn out as successful as they have.”

As Tech heads down the home stretch, Skole will continue to provide positive energy. In addition to his offensive production, he’s been a rock defensively at third base and has doubled as back-up catcher – his first catching since his senior year of high school, when he caught “a few games” – giving starter Cole Leonida an occasional night off.

Skole usually catches weekday starter Mark Pope, who, by the way, is one of two Tech pitchers and three ACC hurlers with six wins.

“Cole’s done a great job for us this year,” he said. “He’s caught a lot of games. Anything I can do to get back there and give him some rest is good for our team.

“We want to get to Omaha,” he added. “The goal as a team is to play one game at a time, take it one pitch at a time and things are going to work out the way we want them to.”

BASH BROTHERS SKOLE HYPE

4th in home runs (12).721 slugging 5th in ACC, 3rd on team, Tech has six of top 1011th in OBP (.475)15th in BA (.364)5th in walks (31)T13th RBIs (41)9th in runs (42)4th in home runs (12)8th in total bases (101)22Ks - T2nd on team (Dietrich 19, Nichols also 22)

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