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May 23, 2011

By Jon Cooper

Sting Daily

When Buck Farmer looks in the mirror these days, he likes what he sees.

Winning 10 games on the season (tied for second in the ACC), including an ACC-high eight, and earning All-ACC Second-Team honors tends to give one positive self-image.

But the image of the man looking back at him wasn’t always so pleasing for the Conyers native.

Following his Feb. 27th start against No. 23 St. John’s, Farmer took a real hard look in the mirror. He knew something had to change. That day, against the Red Storm, the sophomore issued four walks and even walked in a run in the first inning. It was the second straight week that the Yellow Jackets had failed to close the deal on a sweep.

“It wasn’t one of my best [starts] and I just looked at myself in the mirror and told myself ‘I want to keep this weekend role. I have to turn it around,'” he recalled. “I think that was probably it.”

It certainly was “it” for the opposition.

Led by Farmer’s stellar work on the mound, the Yellow Jackets went 11-1 in Farmer’s starts the rest of the season, with the only loss a 3-1 defeat at Clemson on May 10, when he pitched a complete game, allowing only three runs and four hits. He would finish with 2.89 ERA (down from 3.63 as a freshman) and a .239 opponents batting average, in 93.1 innings (fourth in the ACC).

“After my first couple of starts, I just finally settled down and got into a groove,” he said. “I really didn’t expect [to lead the ACC in wins] but I strove to be one of the top pitchers in the ACC.”

He earned the respect of the league, justifiably so according to Tech Head Coach Danny Hall.

“It was an outstanding year for him. He was a big reason we won as many games in the league as we did. He was tremendous on Sunday,” said Hall. “I think his breaking ball is a lot better. He’s always been a great competitor. His fastball has gotten better but his breaking ball is the pitch that has really evolved a lot.”

With a more complete repertoire of pitches, and increasing confidence in them, Farmer walked only 19 batters after Feb. 27 and only one time did he walk as many as four in a game. Nine of his final 12 starts were quality starts (at least six innings allowing three earned runs or fewer). Meanwhile, he struck out 89 on the season (ninth in the conference).

Farmer appeared to get stronger as the season wore on. He took home Co-ACC Pitcher of the Week honors after allowing one run in two starts against Illinois-Chicago and North Carolina. The latter start saw him hurl eight shutout innings, and allow only one Tar Heel to advance past second base. On the final Saturday of the season, he earned a gritty 5-3 decision at Virginia Tech, which clinched a share of the ACC Coastal Division.

The eight wins were not only a conference high, but were among the highest ever in a season by a Georgia Tech pitcher. As important was his dependability. Farmer made an ACC-high-tying 14 starts, and was sixth in the conference in innings pitched per game, averaging 6 2/3 innings per start.

The stability of the rotation of Mark Pope, Jed Bradley and Farmer — all three tied for the lead with 14 starts and in the top 10 in innings per game — bodes well as Tech heads into ACC play, looking for its first Conference Championship since 2005.

“This is the first time in three years that I’ve been here, that the guy who pitches on Sunday hasn’t changed the whole season,” said junior shortstop Jacob Esch. “Those are the three guys that started every weekend. Knowing that Buck’s at the end of the rotation is awesome for us because we know he’s going to go out there and battle his butt off and do what it takes to win.”

Farmer doesn’t foresee any change in strategy when he goes to the hill in Durham, where he allowed two earned runs and seven hits in five innings, on Friday against Florida State — ironically, a team he has never faced in his college career.

“Going into the ACC Tournament I’ve just got to keep the same mentality and keep pitching the same way I have been,” he said. “Keep hitting my spots and keep the hitters off-balance.”


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