ATLANTA – Building momentum with a three-game winning streak, the top-ranked Georgia Tech baseball team cranks up the schedule with four games on tap this week, including the 2001 home opener on Friday. The Yellow Jackets (4-1) are ranked No. 1 in this week’s Baseball America and USA Today/Baseball Weekly polls, and No. 2 in the Collegiate Baseball poll.
Tech wraps up its six-game road stretch on Wednesday at No. 15 Georgia at 4 p.m., which can be heard on WREK-Radio (91.1 FM) in Atlanta and on the internet at www.ramblinwreck.com. The Yellow Jackets will host Elon for a three-game series at Russ Chandler Stadium this weekend, with first pitch set for 3 p.m. on Friday and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
“Obviously the Georgia game is big because it’s an in-state rivalry and both teams are ranked,” said Tech head coach Danny Hall, now in his eighth season with the Yellow Jackets. “It’s a measuring stick for us to see where we are at right now, and it’s a measuring stick for them, too. It will be a great game and should be a great crowd.
“But even beyond Georgia, the Elon team coming in here this weekend really got my attention by playing Miami very tough in three games on the road. I think it’s a big week for us. We have four tough games, and we will have to get a little deeper into the pitching staff. But it will be good to test the pitching staff more as we move closer to conference play.”
After struggling at times on the mound during the opening weekend of the season at the Rice Invitational, the Tech pitching corps was a strength in a two-game sweep of Georgia Southern last weekend. The Yellow Jacket staff held a good hitting Eagle squad to just one earned run on 14 hits and two walks in 18 innings, lowering the team ERA to 3.22 on the season.
Hall will turn junior righthander Brian Sager (Branford, Conn.), 1-0, 3.60 ERA, in Wednesday’s game against the Bulldogs. Sager, a transfer from Stanford, picked up a win in his first start in a Yellow Jacket uniform on Feb. 11 against fourth-ranked Nebraska after allowing two earned runs in five innings of work. Sager will be opposed by Georgia’s Scott Murphy, another highly regarded transfer who joined the Bulldog program this season after two outstanding years at Alabama.
Junior righthanders Steve Kelly (Fairfield, Ohio), 1-0, 1.84, and Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), 2-0, 3.46, will get the first two starts of the series against Elon, with Sunday’s starter still to be determined. Kelly and Parrott were especially impressive last weekend at Georgia Southern where the duo did not allow an earned run in 15 innings while striking out 13 batters.
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. Freshmen Kyle Bakker (Omaha, Neb.) and Brian Burks (Alpharetta, Ga.) have added solid contributions out of the pen in the early going, combining to toss 3.1 innings without allowing an earned run.
But the story of Georgia Tech’s season to date has been the impressive production of the Yellow Jacket offense. Through five games, Tech is batting .391 as a team while averaging a whopping 12.6 runs per contest. Six Yellow Jacket regulars are batting .365 or better.
“I felt like that we would score runs, but the biggest thing is that we’ve been competitive at the plate,” said Hall. “We’re certainly not going to be able to keep scoring runs at the clip that we’re doing right now, but I do thing that we’re tough on people in working the count and forcing opponents to throw a lot of pitches.”
The Jackets’ lineup is anchored by All-America third baseman Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.), .476, 3 HR, 10 RBI, the reigning National Player of the Year. Despite already walking six times as opponents pitch around him (.593 on base percentage), Teixeira continues to provide a punch in the middle of the lineup (.952 slugging pct.).
While Teixeira is the most dangerous hitter in the Yellow Jackets’ lineup, the hottest Tech hitters have been the middle infield duo of junior second baseman Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .440-1-12, and junior shortstop Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .520-1-5. Lewis, who is thriving in the No. 2 spot in the batting order after hitting leadoff all of last season, hit for the cycle on Saturday at Georgia Southern and was named the ACC’s Player of the Week for his efforts. Menocal, who has hit safely in all five games this season and leads the club with 13 base hits, turned in a 7-for-10 performance in two games at Georgia Southern.
Sophomore first baseman Jason Perry (Jonesboro, Ga.), .235-1-3, rounds out the Georgia Tech infield.
Behind the plate, Tech uses the duo of junior Bryan Prince (Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.), .214-1-6 and sophomore Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .294-0-5. Prince and Parker have alternated behind the plate and at the DH spot so far this season.
The Tech outfield is bolstered by the return of Matthew Boggs (Dalton, Ga.), .438-0-3, from elbow surgery after missing all of last season. Boggs, who is one of the top leadoff hitters in college baseball, has started all five games in left field and reached base in 12 of 22 plate appearances (.545 OB%). Senior Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .409-2-7, starts in right field, while junior Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .368-0-2, patrols center field.
Hall’s Yellow Jackets also feature a deep and veteran bench including a pair of seniors in Derik Goffena (Sidney, Ohio), .500-0-1, and Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .222-0-1, who were everyday starters at the DH spot and in right field, respectively, last year. Also in the mix are a pair of younger outfielders in sophomore Jon Henry Kail (Pittsburg, Pa.), .400-0-3, and freshman Matt Murton (McDonough, Ga.), .500-0-0.
“It’s always nice to play at home,” said Hall of the home opener this weekend. “I’m glad that we played these six games on the road because it helps you find out about your team, but it will be very nice to come home. We should have good weather and great crowds, and our guys are very anxious to play before our home fans.”
SERIES VS. GEORGIA, ELON
Wednesday will mark the 313th meeting between Georgia and Georgia Tech, and the Bulldogs hold a 177-133-2 lead in the all-time series that dates back to 1898. Tech is 46-103 in games played in Athens. However, the Yellow Jackets have dominated the series in recent years as Tech has either won or split the annual four-game series in each of the last 14 years. The Jackets are 18-9 against the Bulldogs under head coach Danny Hall.
Last year, Georgia jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the series with a 10-1 win in Athens and a 13-5 win in Atlanta the next day, but Tech rallied with a 8-5 win in Athens and a 7-3 victory in Atlanta to knot the season series at two wins apiece.
Tech is 1-0 all time against Elon, claiming an 11-8 win at Russ Chandler Stadium in 1984.
LEWIS CYCLES, EARNS ACC HONOR
Junior second baseman Richard Lewis had a career day last Saturday at Georgia Southern when he tallied five hits in seven at bats – including two singles, a double, triple and home run – to hit for the cycle while scoring a career-high five runs. He was named the ACC’s Player of the Week for his efforts. After no Tech player had accomplished the feat for six years, Lewis becomes the second Yellow Jacket in as many seasons to hit for the cycle. Teammate Jason Basil hit for the cycle against Duke in the opening round of the ACC Tournament last spring.
GEORGIA TECH BASEBALL THIS WEEKWed.: at Georgia" 4 p.m.Fri.: ELON 3 p.m.Sat.: ELON 1:30 p.m.Sun.: ELON 1:30 p.m.
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