Sept. 25, 2003
ATLANTA – With 20 letterwinners back from last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship team, the Georgia Tech baseball team opens four weeks of fall practice on Sunday afternoon. The Yellow Jackets, who also welcome a highly-regarded, 10-member freshman class, will hold their annual fall practice at Russ Chandler Stadium on campus.
Headlining the list of returnees is sophomore All-America pitcher/designated hitter Micah Owings (Gainesville, Ga.), who led Tech in both victories (nine) and home runs (15) last spring. The 2003 ACC Rookie of the Year, Owings earned second-team All-America honors and first-team Freshman All-America accolades in addition to being named to the first-team All-ACC squad and the ACC All-Tournament team.
Also returning to anchor the Tech pitching corps is versatile senior Brian Burks (Alpharetta, Ga.), the 2003 ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player who has 19 wins and 13 saves in his collegiate career.
In the field the Yellow Jackets return eight of nine starters, including all four infielders, two outfielders and a catcher.
“It will be a lot of fun to get back to work,” said head coach Danny Hall, who enters his 11th season at Georgia Tech and owns a 440-190 (.698) record at the school. “I am anxious to see where our upperclassmen are at and how much they have improved over the summer. And I am very anxious to see how our new players blend in with the team. It’s a great time to get back to work and prepare our team for January when we get ready to play.”
Returning starters include catcher Mike Nickeas (Westlake Village, Calif.), .333, 7 HR, 44 RBI in 2003, first baseman Clifton Remole (Marietta, Ga.), .323-4-42, second baseman Eric Patterson (Kennesaw, Ga.), .274-2-35, 35 SB, shortstop Tyler Greene (Plantation, Fla.), .316-8-43, 19 SB, third baseman Jake Hall (Raleigh, N.C.), .292-0-12, right fielder Jeremy Slayden (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), .294-8-40, center fielder Brandon Boggs (Marietta, Ga.), .246-9-38, and designated hitter Owings, .306-15-42. Also returning is outfielder Steven Blackwood (Roswell, Ga.), .353-5-38, who played all three outfield positions and started 27 games. Tech lone offensive loss was left fielder Matt Murton, a first round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox.
“Other than Matt Murton, we return everyone who started last year,” said Hall, who has led the Yellow Jackets to ACC Championships in 2000 and 2003. “I want to see where Brandon Boggs is at, because he is a guy who has really swung the bat well in our pre-practice workouts. I want to see where Eric Patterson and Jeremy Slayden are at right now. And I also want to see how some of our new players will fit in this year. It’s a great time to see where everybody is at, and it’s a great time to see the areas that we need to improve upon. One area we really need to focus on is our defense.”
On the mound, Tech must replace the losses of Kyle Bakker (20th round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves), Chris Goodman (5th, Kansas City Royals) and Jeff Watchko (24th, Colorado Rockies) to the 2003 Major League Baseball draft.
“I want to see where our pitchers are,” said Hall. “We lost enough pitchers that if someone was going to look at our team, that’s an area where they could cast some doubt. It’s a critical area for us to examine this fall – to find out who is capable of stepping up and taking the innings that we lost from last year.”
Burks, 5-1, 3.92 ERA, 8 SV in 2003, is the elder statesman of the Tech staff, while Owings, 9-3, 3.99, returns after working 88 innings and starting 12 games last season. Returning right-handers include sophomore Jason Neighborgall (Hillsborough, N.C.), 3-0, 3.70, as well as juniors Andrew Kown (Marietta, Ga.), 3-2, 4.65, and Nick Wagner (Springfield, Ohio), 0-0, 3.14. Returning southpaws include senior Aaron Walker (East Palestine, Ohio), 3-2, 4.06, and sophomore Ryan Self (Alpharetta, Ga.), 0-0, 3.86. Senior righty Philip Perry (Marietta, Ga.), who went 3-0 with a 3.56 ERA in 2002, returns after missing the 2003 season following elbow surgery.
Tech’s freshman class, which is ranked among the best in the nation, is led by third baseman Wes Hodges (Ooltewah, Tenn.), a 13th round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox last spring, and highly touted pitchers Lee Hyde (Fayetteville, Ga.), Ryan Turner (Dahlonega, Ga.), Tim Gustafson (Lilburn, Ga.) and John Goodman (Marietta, Ga.), the younger brother of former Tech standout Chris Goodman.
“I fully expect that some or all of our new pitchers will be able to help us,” said Hall. “I think the two lefties – Lee Hyde and Ryan Turner – are two guys who can get in the mix in a hurry. Tim Gustafson has come through a great program and played on two state championship teams at Parkview High School as well as their championship football teams. That’s a quality guy. John Goodman is a lot like his brother, and potentially he can be better than his brother. That’s four quality arms in our freshman class that we are anxious to see.
“Our program, as always, has a lot of great players in it. Now we have to get those players to make a great team and play hard every day.”