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#STINGDAILY: King's Ransom

May 23, 2013

Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –

Grantland Rice became a sportswriting legend in the 1920s with his ability to turn a simple sporting event into something larger than life.

For example, the Murfreesboro, Tenn., native turned a very good Notre Dame football team into the legendary “Four Horsemen.”

When Georgia Tech Baseball takes the field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park this afternoon at around 3:00 p.m. to take on Virginia Tech in its pool play finale, they’ll hand the ball to another Murfreesboro, Tenn., native, freshman pitcher Jonathan King, who they hope will be the anti-Rice and turn their most important game of the season into the most routine of games.

Basically, Georgia Tech must beat the Hokies to have a shot at getting back to the ACC Championship Game — they’d also need Florida State, who the Yellow Jackets beat in their Wednesday opener, to beat Virginia, who beat Tech Thursday. Lose and they’ll come home and await the word of the Selection Committee regarding a seed in the NCAA Tournament.

King shares little with Rice beyond his hometown, especially when it comes to sensationalizing a game like the ACC Tournament but the 5-11, 205-pound freshman believes he has the perfect approach to the game —  ideally keep it a case of same old, same old.

“I tried not to build it up too much in my head,” he said. “I tried to take the same approach, pound the strike zone, and keep us in the games as long as we could and give our offense a chance to win games for us.”

The Jackets would like King to pitch the way he has in his previous couple of starts.

The lefty carries a three-start unbeaten streak (2-0, with a no-decision) into Wednesday, pitching to a 1.76 ERA (three earned runs in 15 1/3 innings) in those starts. In two of his starts he threw six innings of shutout ball, limiting Big Ten power Ohio State to four hits over six, then, muffling Miami on the season’s final day, holding them to three hits. In between he allowed three earned runs on three hits with five walks in 3 1/3 innings against North Carolina.

If precedent means anything, King shut out Va. Tech in a two-inning relief appearance on March 9th.

It’s been quite a ride for King, who has bounced around from the closer’s role early on to midweek starter back to reliever and finally to his current role as Sunday starter.

“I think we asked a lot of him this year,” said Head Coach Danny Hall. “My gut is, it’s a lot easier to be a starter because that’s what he’s been used to doing coming in. I think he’s handled his three starts really well.

“He started the year as a midweek guy, had some tough spots but then he really bounced back and had a couple of good starts in a row in midweek,” Hall added. “It helped Jonathan to ease in to where he was.”

Pitching Coach Jason Howell feels that King’s resilience has helped him adjust to different roles but that starting on the weekend is probably the best fit.

“Him being in a routine is probably is more suited for him than having to go back and forth on if he’s going to be in the bullpen or not,” said Howell. “So I really feel like this adjustment has been much easier for him as opposed to maybe throwing two, maybe three times a week. It’s not been a huge transition. It’s one he’s embraced and worked toward and he’s excited about it.”

Excitement is a relative thing for King, whose “Happy to be here” approach is a good thing.

“I looked at it as, ‘This is my role. This is what they need right now. If they need me to throw midweek then I’ll throw midweek. If they need me on the weekends I’ll do that,'” he said. “I’m just excited to be a part of the team. it’s good experience either way.”

King finished the year with a 6-4 record and a 4.13 ERA (26 earned runs in 56 2/3 innings). He allowed 62 hits with a nearly 2:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (45 strikeouts to 23 walks). In ACC play he was 3-1, and while his ERA went up slightly to 4.63, his hits per inning went down, as he allowed 23 in 23 innings. His strikeouts-to-walks was closer to 1:1 (14 K’s. vs. 11 BB’s), but he also saw his opposing batting average drop 21 points to .277.

King found that pitching to contact worked well for him, especially with his trust in the Jackets’ defense and its penchant for turning double plays.

“It’s been my best friend all year, the double play,” he said, with a laugh. “It’s gotten me out of a lot of jams. Any time I get in trouble, I’ll look behind me, Mott or ‘Smitty’ or ‘Gonzo’ will say, ‘Just get us a ground ball or throw us a strike.’ Typically it works for us.”

Realizing what works hasn’t been limited to his time on the mound.

“He got a chance to watch guys like Buck Farmer, how they go about their business,” said Hall. “He’s a pretty good student of the game. He’s very smart. He’s a hard worker and so I think all his hard work is paying off.”

King admits he’s learned a lot by picking the brains and picking up the habits of weekend starters Farmer and Dusty Isaacs.

“I usually sit near [Farmer] and Dusty in the dugout,” said King. “We’ll talk during the game about what to do with certain hitters, how to attack certain points in the game. They’ve been really helpful all year, helping me out and teaching me. Showing me the ropes.”

Farmer, who was named All-ACC for the third straight year and is a candidate for Pitcher of the Year Award, knows all about the road King is taking, having began in midweek himself.

“It’s one of those things that I told him that it’s different going from midweek to weekend because, yeah, we play some good midweek teams, but ACC teams are tough,” said Farmer. “I just told King he had to be a bulldog. Go out there and do what he knew how to do. He’s done that thus far.”

King feels he’s ready for anything Virginia Tech can offer.

“I feel a lot better going in just because there’s not that initial surprise of who we’re playing,” he said. “I’m just a lot more relaxed and have a better approach.”

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