ATLANTA (Feb. 13) – After posting a 2-1 record in a highly competitive tournament in Houston last weekend, the top-ranked Georgia Tech baseball team travels to Georgia Southern this weekend to continue its six-game road stretch to open the season.
Tech (2-1), the pre-season No. 1 team in the country, remained in the top spot in this week’s Baseball America poll, but slipped to No. 2 in both the Collegiate Baseball and USA Today/Baseball Weekly polls.
Tech, which is playing in Statesboro in February for the 16th straight year, will face the Eagles Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. each day. The Yellow Jackets wrap-up their six-game road stretch next week at Georgia before facing Elon in the home opener on Feb. 23 at Russ Chandler Stadium.
“It was a good start for us last weekend and we faced two very good teams in Rice and Nebraska,” said Tech head coach Danny Hall, now in his eighth season with the Yellow Jackets. “Now we turn to Georgia Southern, who has a very good team once again, and the thing that sticks out to me is that they have great pitching. We saw them in the first game of the NCAA Regional last year and they gave us everything that we could handle. Now we get a chance to go back to their park and play in front of their crowd, and it will be a big challenge for us. It’s a chance to go on the road, and I’m anxious to see how we’ll respond.”
Hall will turn to a pair of junior righthanders in Steve Kelly (Fairfield, Ohio) and Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.) for the Georgia Southern series. Kelly, who will get the nod on Saturday, got no decision in his first start of 2001 last Saturday against Rice despite a solid effort in which he held the Owls to three runs in 6.2 innings of work. Parrott, who will start on Sunday, picked up a win over Lamar in the season opener last weekend.
The Tech bullpen is led by sophomore Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.), senior Andy Mitchell (Conyers, Ga.), and junior Kevin Cameron (Joliet, Ill.), who combined for a 13-3 record and 12 saves last spring. While Cameron tossed four innings and did not allow an earned run last weekend in Houston, both Watchko and Mitchell struggled in their appearances, and that will be an area that Hall and his staff will address in practice this week.
“I think we had three very quality starts last weekend,” said Hall. “All told, I thought all three (Kelly, Parrott, and junior Brian Sager) pitched very well and that was very encouraging. Now we have to get the other guys behind them throwing a little better, and when we do that, then I think we’ll have an outstanding pitching staff. We’ll spend some time this week shoring up the pitching staff before we go to Georgia Southern.”
Tech”s offense, which returns all nine starters from the team that hit a school-record .342 last season, had the dubious pleasure of facing the top pitcher from each of its three opponents last weekend. However, the Yellow Jackets’ potent offensive attack hit .374 (43-for-115) in the three-game tournament while blasting six home runs and averaging exactly 10 runs per game.
“We have a good offense, and we have a lot of guys that can hit,” said Hall. “I don”t think that we really have an out in our lineup. One through nine, we can put guys in the lineup that can swing the bat. From that standpoint I was pleased last weekend, because I felt like we faced two of the better pitchers in the country in Rice’s Kenny Baugh and Nebraska’s Shane Komine.”
The Jackets’ lineup is anchored by All-America third baseman Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.), .545, 2 HR, 5 RBI, the reigning National Player of the Year. Despite walking four times in three game, including two intentional passes, Teixeira was still responsible for plenty of offensive damage and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference”s Player of the Week for his efforts.
Rounding out the Tech infield is junior second baseman Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .357-0-6, junior shortstop Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .400-1-3, and sophomore first baseman Jason Perry (Jonesboro, Ga.), .300-1-2.
Behind the plate, Tech uses the duo of junior Bryan Prince (Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.), .273-1-5 and sophomore Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .286-0-0. Prince and Parker alternated behind the plate and at the DH spot last weekend.
The Tech outfield is bolstered by the return of Matthew Boggs (Dalton, Ga.), .400-0-2, from elbow surgery after missing all of last season. Boggs, who is one of the top leadoff hitters in college baseball, started all three games in left field and proceeded to reach base in seven of his 14 plate appearances. Senior Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .308-1-4, starts in right field, while junior Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .417-0-1, patrols center field.
Hall”s Yellow Jackets also feature a deep and veteran bench including a pair of seniors in Derik Goffena (Sidney, Ohio), 1.000-0-0, and Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .286-0-1, who were everyday starters at the DH spot and in right field, respectively, last year.
“We can bring guys like Brad Stockton and Derik Goffena off the bench, two players who are seniors and have been starters in our program, and that gives you a lot of weapons,” said Hall. “I also think we have some younger guys in Jon Henry Kail and Matt Murton sitting over there who can also do a lot of damage. We have a lot of depth offensively, and we will continue to use it as best possible.”
SERIES VS. GEORGIA SOUTHERN
Georgia Tech holds a 54-20 lead in the all-time series with Georgia Southern after sweeping five meetings last spring. The series dates back to 1947, and the two schools have played at least four times annually since 1987. Last year, Tech won 15-3 and 7-6 to open the season in Statesboro, then took two meetings in Atlanta by scores of 17-5 and 22-8 before claiming an 11-9 win in the first round of the NCAA Atlanta Regional.
The Yellow Jackets have won nine straight games with the Eagles, and 16 of the last 18 dating back to 1996. Tech is 21-10 against Georgia Southern in Statesboro.
TECH PICKED FIRST IN PRE-SEASON ACC POLL
The Atlantic Coast Conference’s nine head coaches selected Georgia Tech as the unanimous top pick to win the conference championship in 2001. Tech tallied 81 points in the poll, including all nine first place votes. Clemson placed second with 69 points, and Florida State was the third pick with 64 points. Wake Forest (55 points) was tabbed fourth while North Carolina and NC State (40 points each) were tied for fifth. Virginia (26), Duke (18) and Maryland (12) rounded out the poll.