May 26, 2004
by Simit Shah
Tuesday’s massive chemical fire might be the only thing hotter in metro Atlanta than the fifth-ranked Georgia Tech baseball team. The squad is red-hot, riding a 17-game winning streak into the ACC Tournament, and left fielder Steven Blackwood has been spearheading the offensive attack.
The sophomore from nearby Roswell, Ga., leads the Jackets with a .357 batting average, and his 55 RBI are second only to Micah Owings. Named second-team all-ACC earlier this week, Blackwood and his teammates are seeking their second straight ACC title in Salem, Va., this week.
“I feel very confident in the way I’ve been playing,” he explained. “I’ve been able to make some good adjustments at the plate. The difference is I’ve been able to make them faster. Instead of over the course of a game or several games, I’ve been able to make adjustments at-bat to at-bat. I’m seeing the ball well, and I’m hitting the balls that are in my zone.”
During the team’s current winning streak, Blackwood has 27 RBI while hitting .402. He ended the regular season with back-to-back four-hit games against Maryland.
“We started the year with him hitting third, and we felt like he’d be one of our key guys,” said head coach Danny Hall. “He got off to a little bit of a slow start, but it’s no coincidence that he’s swinging the bat well and we’re playing well.”
On April 18, the Yellow Jackets fell to 21-17 overall after dropping two of three at home to Washington. Ranked as high as third in the nation early in the season, Tech found itself bounced from the three major polls and in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in the last 20 years.
“We started slow,” Blackwood admitted. “Our hitting was pretty strong, but our pitching was down. About halfway through the season, things started clicking, and we got our confidence back. Right now, everyone is just feeding off each other.”
The Jackets haven’t lost since, as they clinched the ACC regular season title after a dominating sweep of Maryland last weekend to finish with an 18-5 conference record.
Blackwood has played a key role in the team’s resurgence this season, but there was a time that he believed donning the white and gold was a longshot. Even though he grew up just 30 minutes from the Tech campus, the lefty wasn’t on the school’s recruiting radar despite a stellar prep career at Roswell High School.
He also starred in the East Cobb summer program, known for producing some of the nation’s top talent, and holds the league’s single season records for home runs, hits and runs.
“There were some other schools that were interested in me, mainly in the ACC with Florida State, Clemson and Duke,” recalled Blackwood, whose brother Wes played baseball at Georgia. “Georgia Tech was one of the later schools to contact me. I was surprised and honored that they were interested in me.”
“We felt that when we recruited him that he was going to be a great college baseball player,” added Hall, who is in his 11th season at Georgia Tech. “You couldn’t say at that time that he was a great pro prospect, but he had the ability to successful in college.”
As a freshman, he began the season on the bench before starting the final 17 games in center. He showed flashes of his hitting prowess with a .353 average in just 116 at-bats.
When he’s not patrolling the outfield, Blackwood is usually immersed in textbooks. The biology major is on a pre-med course of study, a demanding workload that’s difficult to balance with baseball. His efforts in the classroom have been rewarded, as he was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District III first team.
“It’s definitely a tough load, but you just have to take it one test at a time,” he remarked. “That’s the only way you can take it at this school. It’s a pain sometimes, but I take my books on the road. I study on the bus, in the hotel, the locker room. It’ll pay off in the end.”
“I tell everybody that he gets it done in both areas-he’s a great baseball player plus he’s a great student,” said Hall.
But before he hits the books next semester, Blackwood has his sights set on reaching the College World Series in Omaha.
“After getting knocked out early last year, we’re more motivated this year to come out and not get too high coming out of the ACC Tournament,” he stated. “Right now everything is firing on all cylinders. We’re playing very well as a team, and that’s going to help us going into the ACC Tournament and then the regionals.”