ATLANTA (Mar. 13) – After playing just three times in 10 days, Georgia Tech’s baseball team will be put to the test this week as the Jackets visit Georgia for the second time this season on Tuesday, host Liberty on Wednesday, and then host No. 2 North Carolina in the team’s first Atlantic Coast Conference action of the season.
On Tuesday, Tech will travel to Athens for the third showdown between the two rivals on the diamond this year. The 4 p.m. game will be televised live on Media One Channel 33 in Atlanta. Georgia (12-4) battered the Jackets in their first two meetings two weeks ago.
Hall will turn to senior lefthander Ben Sheeter (Lilburn, Ga.), 0-1, 5.59 ERA, on the mound against the Bulldogs on Tuesday. Sheeter, who started six games a year ago, will make his first start of 2000 against Georgia. Freshman right-hander Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.), 0-0, 4.72 ERA, will make his first collegiate start Wednesday when Liberty visits for a 7 p.m. contest at Russ Chandler Stadium.
“I think it’s very important that we play well against Georgia,” said Hall. “We’ve been embarrassed by them twice this season, and don’t want that to happen again. Liberty has played a number of ACC teams, including Virginia. They’ve also got a number of players from Atlanta on their squad.”
The weekend brings the start of the conference season to the Flats as North Carolina (20-0) visits Georgia Tech for three games at 7 p.m. Friday, 1:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Sunday’s game is the first of nine Tech games that will be televised on Fox Sports Net South.
“You always want to start off well in ACC play,” said Hall, whose Jackets took three of four from the Tar Heels in 1999, including a 15-4 win in the opening round of the ACC Tournament. “It’s also important to play well at home in ACC games. It’ll be a big challenge for us. We played well against them last year, and despite losing two top pitchers, they’ve got a similar squad as a number of players have stepped right in their places.”
Junior southpaw Cory Vance (Vandalia, Ohio), 3-1, 3.20 ERA, will get the start in the opener on Friday night against the Tar Heels, with Saturday’s and Sunday’s starters still to be determined. Possible candidates include sophomores Steve Kelly (Fairfield, Ohio), 1-1, 6.33 ERA, and Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), 2-1, 5.21 ERA.
“Steve’s struggling a bit,” said Hall. “I thought he threw well against USC (Mar. 3 at Fullerton, Calif.), but had a tough time on Saturday against Connecticut. I felt Rhett Parrott threw very well Sunday, and he threw a lot of strikes. I was pleased to see his improvement. The starters this Saturday and Sunday will depend on what happens to us during the week.”
At the plate, the Jackets’ lineup took a hit on Saturday when second baseman Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .475, 1 HR, 12 RBI, strained his quadriceps muscle. Lewis, who had served as the Jackets’ leadoff hitter in each of the first 15 games, leads the squad in batting average, but is questionable for this week’s play. Freshman Davis Myers (Duluth, Ga.), .250, made his first career start on Sunday in Lewis’ place.
“Lewis is basically day-to-day,” said Hall. “Not having him in the lineup leaves a big hole because he leads the team in hitting and is very good defensively. However, we’re not going to rush him back and push it too much.”
The remainder of the Tech lineup has not changed much. Sophomores Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.), .441, 6 HR, 22 RBI, Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .224, 1 HR, 13 RBI, and Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .281, 9 RBI, are regular starters at third base, shortstop and in center field, respectively. Lewis or Myers will man the second base position, while Derik Goffena (Sidney, Ohio), .311, 10 RBI, and Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .275, 4 HR, 14 RBI, will each see their share of time at first base.
Bryan Prince (Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.), .407, 2 HR, 16 RBI, continues to see the majority of the time behind the plate, being spelled at times by Parker. Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .238, 1 HR, 9 RBI, and Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .316, 11 RBI, are the primary starters in right and left field.
“I was glad to see Wes Rynders have a good day on Sunday (4-for-5), and Prince and Teixeira have both been solid as of late,” said Hall. “Derik Goffena really hit the ball hard all weekend against Connecticut, and I think he’s swinging well.”
SERIES VS. GEORGIA
Tuesday’s matchup between the Jackets and Bulldogs will be the 311th all-time between the two rivals. Georgia leads the series 177-131-2, and is in position to take the yearly series from Tech for the first time since 1987. The Bulldogs handled the Jackets easily in each of the two meetings this season. On Feb. 29 in Athens, Georgia right-hander Chris Clark pitched a complete game in UGA’s 10-1 win, while Georgia’s offense exploded again the next afternoon at Russ Chandler Stadium as the Dogs won 13-5. However, overall, in recent years, the Jackets have dominated the series, winning 17 of the last 26 games between the two schools.
SERIES VS. LIBERTY
The visit by the Flames to Atlanta on Wednesday will mark just the fifth all-time meeting between the Big South school and the Jackets. Tech leads the series 3-1 against Liberty, with each of the four games having been played at Russ Chandler Stadium. The most recent meeting took place in the NCAA Regional hosted by Tech in 1993, which resulted in a 4-1 victory by the Jackets.
SERIES VS. NORTH CAROLINA
Tech’s first conference opponent of 2000 was also their last a year ago, as the Jackets finished the regular season with a three-game set in Chapel Hill. The Jackets took two of three in that series, then defeated the Tar Heels in the first round of the ACC Tournament three days later. Overall, Tech leads the series by a 42-39 margin. In recent years, however, the series has actually been controlled by the visiting team, which has taken the regular season series in each of the last four years. The Tar Heels have also been a common foe in ACC tournament play, as Tech and UNC have met in five of the last six tournaments.
WHERE’S THE DEFENSE?
Sloppy defense has been one of the key factors contributing to Tech’s recent slump in which the Yellow Jackets have lost five of eight games. Tech has made at least one error in each of the last eight games, and three or more in three of the last five games. The Jackets have only had two errorless games of the sixteen played thus far, and average 1.8 errors per game.
This Week in Tech Baseball
Tue. at Georgia* [MediaOne Ch. 33] 4 p.m.
Wed. LIBERTY* 7 p.m.
Fri. NORTH CAROLINA* 7 p.m.
Sat. NORTH CAROLINA 1:30 p.m.
Sun. NORTH CAROLINA [Fox Sports Net South] 1 p.m.
*Radio broadcast on WREK (91.1 FM)