ATLANTA (Feb. 24) — After sweeping a three game series from visiting Oakland last weekend and beating Jacksonville State Tuesday, Georgia Tech’s baseball team (7-1) hosts UNC Greensboro Saturday and Sunday at Russ Chandler Stadium, both at 1:30 p.m.
Tech, ranked No. 7 nationally by Baseball America this week, enters this week’s action riding a four-game winning streak, having knocked off Georgia State in its home opener Wednesday, and then defeated Oakland three times at home over the weekend.
The Jackets look to use this week as a bit of a respite after five games last week and five demanding games next week.
“Saturday and Sunday we’ve got UNC Greensboro coming in here, who I know has a good club, so that’ll be a great test,” said head coach Danny Hall
The Spartans stand at 3-3 in the early going of 2000, and are coming off a 29-26 season in 1999. However, UNC Greensboro has a solid reputation, posting 40-win seasons in two of the last three years and capturing a pair of conference titles.
“They play a lot of ACC teams and seem to give the North Carolina schools a lot of trouble when they play them,” said Hall. “I know their coach (Mike Gaski) very well, as he was at Ohio State while I was at Michigan, and he’s also been involved with USA Baseball. I know his team will come down ready to play.”
One of the keys to the Jackets’ early success has been the outstanding work of Tech’s bullpen, which has combined for just a 1.98 ERA over 27-1/3 innings of work this season. Sophomore Kevin Cameron (Joliet, Ill.), 2-0, 1.23 ERA, has led the charge, allowing just one earned run and two hits over 7-1/3 innings of work.
“The one who’s really caught my eye so far has been Cameron,” Hall said. “He’s really been lights out so far coming out of the pen, and has come into a number of critical spots. He’s come out and already picked up two wins for us out of the bullpen.”
Freshman Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.), 0-0, 3.00 ERA, has also seen significant time due to his outstanding performances.
“I like the way Watchko’s thrown so far,” said Hall. “With the exception of one rocky inning at Georgia Southern, he’s been lights out as well.”
With five critical games coming up next week, two with Georgia and a trip to California to face No. 4 Cal State Fullerton, No. 9 Southern California and Mississippi State, Hall has a number of options at setting his pitching staff for this weekend’s series against UNC Greensboro.
Sophomore Steve Kelly (Hamilton, Ohio), 1-0, 7.04 ERA, will likely take the mound in one of this weekend’s games, however the second start could be made by either sophomore Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), 1-1, 4.09 ERA, or junior Cory Vance (Vandalia, Ohio), 2-0, 0.64 ERA, pending Hall’s plans on setting up his rotation for the following week’s games.
“We may hold Vance back until Tuesday and throw him at Georgia (Feb. 29) and then again in California against Mississippi State (Mar. 5),” said Hall. “But, that’s still up in the air for now.”
Sophomore third baseman Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.), .533, 3 HR, 11 RBI, was 9-for-16 at the plate last week and leads the Tech offense with a .563 average. Fellow sophomores Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .219, 8 RBI, and Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .379, are fixtures at shortstop and second base respectively.
Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .250, 6 RBI, maintains the daily spot on the lineup card in center field, while Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .222, remains the primary starter in right field.
The catcher, first base and left field positions continue to vary, and they are regularly occupied by juniors Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .500, 8 RBI, Bryan Prince (Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.), .400, and freshman Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .333, 3 HR, 11 RBI. Each has seen time behind the plate, at first and in the outfield, as Hall tries to keep all three bats in the lineup.
“Tyler Parker’s gotten off to a good start,” said Hall of his highly regarded freshman. “It’s hard to match the two home run opening game (Feb. 12 at Georgia Southern), but he’s played well.”
Despite the recent winning streak, Hall said that his team has a lot of areas they can improve early on before entering conference play in three weeks.
“We need to get better,” said Hall. “We’re not where I’d like to see us right now. We need to keep working hard to swing the bats better, play better defensively, and be better overall than we are right now.”
SERIES VS. UNC GREENSBORO
In UNC Greensboro, Georgia Tech is meeting a first-time opponent for the second straight weekend. Although Tech plays several teams from the Tar Heel State annually, the Jackets are meeting the Spartans for the first time. A year ago, Tech went 9-6 against teams from North Carolina.
VANCE NAMED PITCHER OF THE WEEK
Junior pitcher Cory Vance was honored Monday as ACC Pitcher of the Week for the week of Feb. 14-20. Vance’s eight inning, no earned run, 13 strikeout, no walk performance against Oakland on Saturday was deemed the best effort of the week in the league. Vance saw his ERA drop to 0.64 for the season, and has allowed just one earned run in 14 innings in 2000, while sporting a 2-0 record. Dating back to 1999, Vance has won seven of his last nine starts, including wins over NCAA runner-up Florida State and ACC champion Wake Forest.
BRAVO TO THE BULLPEN
Much of Georgia Tech’s early success can be attributed to the bullpen, which has been impressive through the first two weeks of the season as indicated by a 1.98 ERA. The relief corps has shown great improvement from a year ago, when Tech yielded more runs in the seventh and eighth innings than any other.
In last week’s five games, the Yellow Jackets’ relief combination of Kevin Cameron, Jeff Watchko, Ben Sheeter (Lilburn, Ga.), Andy Mitchell (Conyers, Ga.), Ronnie Robinson (Atlanta, Ga.) and Philip Perry (Marietta, Ga.) allowed just one earned run and three hits in 17-2/3 innings of work (0.51 ERA, 1.53 hits per nine innings).
THE BIG BOPPERS IN THE MIDDLE Mark Teixeira and Jason Basil have found themselves batting in the No. 3 and 4 positions in the lineup for each of Tech’s seven games and have been dominant forces. With Basil batting .500 with eight RBI, opposing pitchers don’t have the luxury of pitching around Teixeira, a pre-season all-America batting .533 with three homers and 11 RBI.
The Teixeira-Basil combo in the middle of the order has the potential to rival Florida State’s 1997 duo of J.D. Drew and Jeremy Morris, each of whom hit 25 or more home runs and tallied 100 or more RBI, as Morris benefitted by having the luxury of hitting behind Drew, and drove in an ACC-record 116 runs.