ATLANTA (Mar. 26) — The third-ranked Georgia Tech baseball team wraps up its eight-game homestand against Mercer before traveling to Virginia this weekend for a three-game Atlantic Coast Conference series. The Yellow Jackets, who spent the first six weeks of the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, are currently ranked No. 3 in this week’s Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball polls.
Tech hosts the Bears on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Russ Chandler Stadium. The Yellow Jackets visit the Cavaliers this weekend, with first pitch scheduled for 3 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. The series at Virginia will be broadcast live on WREK-Radio (91.1 FM in Atlanta) and on the internet at www.ramblinwreck.com.
After opening the ACC season with a 1-2 mark against NC State, the Yellow Jackets rebounded with a three-game sweep of Maryland last weekend to move to 4-2 in the league race, while Tech’s overall record now stands at 20-6.
“This weekend at Virginia is another key series,” said Tech head coach Danny Hall, the 2000 Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year. “The team that wins the series is in the hunt, and the team that does not is going to be behind the eight ball. The last time we went to Virginia we did not play very well, so this weekend is a case where we need to focus on playing well and try to make a statement about where we are in the league race.
“Every game that you win in the ACC counts and every game that you lose counts. So it doesn’t matter who you are getting the wins against because they are going to add up. We need to try to win as many as we can, and we can’t worry about who we have down the road but instead concentrate on who we play now.
“Mercer grabbed my attention, too. We played Georgia State, who I thought was pretty good, and Mercer put up a bunch of runs on them last weekend. We are going to have to pitch very well if we expect to win, and hopefully we will continue to swing the bats well and score some runs ourselves.”
After losing the team*s top hitter, All-America third baseman Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.), .500, 4 HR, 11 RBI, until May with a broken right ankle, Hall has juggled Tech’s infield in the last two weeks. Junior Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .426-2-25, has moved from shortstop to third base while junior Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .369-6-35, slid over to shortstop from second base. Redshirt junior Matthew Boggs (Dalton, Ga.), .337-0-14, who has played primarily in the outfield this year after starting at second base in 1998 and 1999, has returned to his old position at second base. Menocal, who has been one of Tech*s hottest hitters of late, Lewis and Boggs have started each of the last eight games at their new positions.
“Victor is a guy who works very hard and takes a lot of pride in his game,* said Hall. *He has improved every year, and right now he is swinging that hot bat. It*s no accident that he is doing well, because he works very hard at his game.”
Moving Boggs back to the infield has opened the door for Hall to get some other bats into the lineup, particularly sophomore Jon Henry Kail (Pittsburgh, Pa.), .353-1-14, and freshman Matt Murton (McDonough, Ga.), .357-1-8. Both are outfielders and they constitute the biggest power threats in the Tech lineup while Teixeira is on the shelf. Senior Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .354-2-12, who has also seen more at bats since the shuffle, gives Hall the luxury of adding another left handed bat into the lineup.
“All of those guys have contributed in some fashion,” said Hall. “By making the infield switch, it has gotten Murton, Kail and Stockton in the lineup and all three of those guys have played well. We are getting a lot of different contributions, and we need to continue to have that.”
Sophomore Jason Perry (Jonesboro, Ga.), .342-6-25, rounds out the Tech infield at first base, while senior Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .327-4-27, and junior Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .283-2-12, who start in right and center field respectively, make up the remainder of the outfield.
Senior Bryan Prince (Ft. Oglethorpe, Ga.), .414-4-41, has returned from an elbow injury to retake his place as Tech*s everyday catcher. Prince, who was limited to DH duty in 16 of the first 18 games of the season, has started seven of Tech’s last eight games behind the plate. Sophomore catcher Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .342-1-13, suffered a broken right thumb after being hit by a pitch on Feb. 28, but he could be cleared to play as early as this week.
Junior righty Brian Sager (Branford, Conn.), 1-0, 7.07, will make his return to the mound on Tuesday night against Mercer. Sager has made just three appearances for the Yellow Jackets this season after being sidelined with stiffness in his right arm over the last three weeks. Sager has been on a throwing program over the last week, and he is cleared to throw approximately 50 pitches against the Bears.
For the Virginia series, Tech will turn to a pair of junior right-handers on Friday and Saturday in Steve Kelly (Fairfield, Ohio), 4-0, 3.54 ERA, and Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), 6-1, 4.43. Kelly paces the staff with 48.1 innings pitched this spring while Parrott is tied for the ACC lead with six victories. Both players pitched well in their most recent start against Maryland last weekend, teaming allow just one run in 15 innings.
Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined, but it will likely be Sager or junior righty Kevin Cameron (Joliet, Ill.), 3-1, 4.75, 1 SV. Cameron, who has started in Sager*s absence, has been impressive in three of his five starts.
The Tech bullpen is led by sophomore closer Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.), 0-1, 1.69, 4 SV, who has not allowed a run in 11 of his last 12 outings after suffering a ninth-inning loss at Rice in the opening weekend of the season. Senior Andy Mitchell (Conyers, Ga.), 1-1, 4.00, 1 SV, is Tech’s most experienced member of the bullpen, while Tech’s freshman class of Kyle Bakker (Omaha, Neb.), Brian Burks (Alpharetta, Ga.), Matt Lorenzo (Hartville, Ohio) and Aaron Walker (East Palestine, Ohio) have added solid contributions out of the pen in the early going. The rookie quartet has combined to allow just 15 earned runs in 47 innings of work (2.87 ERA).
“I think that Steve Kelly threw outstanding last Friday, and then Rhett Parrott matched him on Saturday,” said Hall. “Jeff Watchko has been very solid out of the bullpen, but I also think that the rest of our bullpen was very good last week. That’s what it is going to take though, because those guys are going to have to continue to pitch well for us to be successful.”
SERIES VS. MERCER AND VIRGINIA
Mercer: Georgia Tech and Mercer have met on 141 times dating back to 1897, and the Yellow Jackets lead the all-time series 91-50. Tech holds a 53-22 lead in the series in games played in Atlanta. The Jackets have won nine of the last 10 meetings in the series, and Tech is 10-3 against Mercer under head coach Danny Hall.
Virginia: Georgia Tech leads Virginia, 49-25-1, in a series that dates back to 1924. Tech swept all three meetings from the Cavaliers last year in Atlanta, but the Yellow Jackets have struggled to a 15-15 record in games played in Charlottesville. Tech has never swept a three-game series at Virginia, and the Jackets lost two of three games there in 1999. Tech is 16-6 against the Cavaliers under Hall.
GEORGIA TECH BASEBALL THIS WEEK
Tue.: MERCER 7 p.m.
Fri.: at Virginia* 3 p.m.
Sat.: at Virginia* 2 p.m.
Sun.: at Virginia* 1 p.m.
*Radio broadcast on WREK (91.1 FM)
* All Times Eastern