ATLANTA (May 16) — The third-ranked Georgia Tech baseball team is the top seed at the 27th annual Atlantic Coast Conference baseball tournament this week at Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, S.C.
Tech’s record currently stands at 42-14 after the Yellow Jackets wrapped up the ACC regular season in first place with an 18-6 record. Georgia Tech finished one game ahead of second place Clemson (17-7 ACC), while Florida State (15-9), Wake Forest (14-10) and North Carolina (12-12) rounded out the league’s top five.
Eighth-seeded Maryland and ninth-seeded Duke will open the double-elimination tournament on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., and the winner of that contest will advance to face Georgia Tech on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. The remainder of Wednesday’s schedule includes #4 Wake Forest vs. #5 North Carolina at 10 a.m., #2 Clemson vs. #7 Virginia at 5 p.m. and #3 Florida State vs. #6 NC State at 8:30 p.m.
“I think the ACC Tournament is going to be wild this year,” said Tech head coach Danny Hall. “With us being the first place team and North Carolina being in fifth, I think there is very little difference in those top five teams. And then you look at teams like Virginia, who has played everybody tough this season, Duke, who beat us twice during the season, and Maryland, who has won six of their last nine ACC games, as teams that could do some damage. I think the league tournament is going to be as wild and woolly as it has ever been. A team is going to have to play very well for five straight days to win it.
“One of our goals is to win this tournament,” Hall continued. “We have never gone deep into the ACC Tournament in the six years that I have been here. We have never played for the championship and I would like to see us get there this year. It’s not going to be easy, but our goal is to get to Saturday with a chance to win the tournament championship.”
After opening the season with a 9-6 record in their first 15 games, the Yellow Jackets won 33 of their last 41 regular season games to take the regular season ACC championship.
“We had a lot of adversity early on in the season,” said Hall. “We did not play well as a team – we didn’t hit, pitch or field well. The whole key to our season was the outing that Ben Sheeter had at Georgia when he kept us in the game and we won in extra innings. From that point on, we have been a very consistent team. We have had a lot different guys contribute, and you need to get help from everybody to have the kind of year that we have had.
“I told our team that to win the regular season championship means that you were the most consistent team over the long haul. That means more to me than winning the ACC Tournament because you play everybody head to head and we were better than everybody that we played. I give our guys a lot of credit for working hard and competing very well.”
Tech will start sophomore righty Steve Kelly (Fairfield, Ohio), 6-2, 4.46 ERA, in its first game on Wednesday afternoon. Kelly was slated to start the series finale on Sunday at Wake Forest, but was scratched from that start after the Yellow Jackets had already clinched first place in the ACC regular season. Junior southpaw and staff ace Cory Vance (Vandalia, Ohio), 11-2, 3.38, will start Tech’s second game in the tournament. The Jackets’ leader in victories, innings pitched (96) and strikeouts (103), Vance posted a 7-1 record in eight starts against ACC opponents during the regular season.
Sophomore right-hander Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), 7-2, 3.44, would start Tech’s third game in the tournament should the Yellow Jackets advance past the first two games.
Freshmen Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.), 3-1, 2.72, 4 saves, and Philip Perry (Marietta, Ga.), 3-0, 2.80, 1 SV, sophomore Kevin Cameron (Joliet, Ill.), 4-2, 4.53, 1 SV, junior Andy Mitchell (Conyers, Ga.), 4-0, 5.22, 4 SV, and senior Ben Sheeter (Lilburn, Ga.), 3-4, 6.34, have been the main workhorses out of the bullpen this season.
Georgia Tech leads the ACC with a .339 team batting average, and the Jackets’ lineup is led by third baseman Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.), .428, 15 HR, 67 RBI, and leadoff hitter and second baseman Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .409, 4, 46. Both players rank in the top three in the ACC batting race.
The middle of the batting order is anchored by a pair of juniors in catcher Bryan Prince (Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.), .386, 7, 65, and left fielder Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .374, 10, 66.
Sophomore Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .325, 3, 31, is the everyday starter at shortstop while freshmen Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .249, 10, 37, and Jason Perry (Jonesboro, Ga.), .250, 3, 9 split time at first base while junior Derik Goffena (Sidney, Ohio), .310, 2, 49, is the team’s primary designated hitter.
Rounding out the Tech outfield is junior Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .328, 5, 28, in right field and sophomore Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .263, 1, 27, in center fielder.
TECH IN THE ACC TOURNAMENT
Georgia Tech has captured four Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championships since joining the league prior to the 1980 season, winning the league crown in 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1988. Overall, the Yellow Jackets own a 39-33 record in 20 previous ACC Tournament appearances. However, since winning those four consecutive championships in the late 1980’s, Tech has played for the title just once in the last 11 years. The Jackets went 1-2 in the ACC Tournament last year.
HALL TOPS 500
Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall picked up his 500th career victory in the Jackets’ 16-7 win over Mercer on May 9. Now in his 13th year as a head coach at the Division I level, Hall’s career record stands at 503-251 (.667 winning percentage). He is now in his seventh season at Georgia Tech, where his record is 295-134 (.688). The 1997 ACC and National Coach of the Year, Hall’s Tech teams have averaged 42 wins per year, including a 50-win season and a College World Series appearance in 1994.