ATLANTA (January 16) – Returning all nine position starters from a team that batted a school record .342 last season, Georgia Tech’s baseball team has opened its pre-season practice with high expectations and a No. 1 pre-season ranking by both Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball magazines.
A pre-season top 10 team for the third straight year, Tech’s goal is to defend last springs Atlantic Coast Conference Championship and advance to the College World Series in Omaha for the second time in school history.
“It’s and honor anytime you are ranked in the top 25,” said head coach Danny Hall, beginning his eighth season at Tech and a two-time ACC Coach of the Year. “To be ranked No. 1 in the preseason is a great honor, although it doesnt mean much right now. Ive told people that the last time we were ranked No. 1 heading into the season (in 1994) we ended up playing for the national championship, so Im looking at it as a good luck sign. I realize that we have a lot of great teams to play this season and we have a 56-game schedule that is going to be very tough. Well find out whether or not we are worthy of that No. 1 ranking very soon.”
The Yellow Jackets have a consensus pre-season all-America in junior third baseman Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.). Teixeira, who was the winner of the Dick Howser Trophy as the National Player of the year last spring, is regarded as one of the premier hitters in college baseball. He led the Yellow Jackets in almost every offensive category in 2000 while winning the ACCs batting crown with a .427 average and leading the league with 18 home runs.
Joining Teixeira is a talented and veteran group of performers, and Hall’s squad has seven different players who were named to pre-season All-America teams by either Baseball America or Collegiate Baseball. That list includes seniors Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .382-15-83, in the outfield, and Bryan Prince (Ft. Oglethorpe, Ga.), .387-8-77, behind the plate, junior Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .398-4-52, at second base, and sophomore Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.), .238-11-41, at catcher or first base. Techs pre-season All-America pitchers are a pair of junior right-handers in Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), who went 8-3 with a 4.48 ERA last spring, and Brian Sager (Branford, Conn.), a transfer from Stanford who owns a 12-1 career record.
Other returning starters include junior Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .329-3-39, at shortstop, senior Derik Goffena (Sidney, Ohio), .301-4-56, as the primary DH, and senior Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .342-7-39, and junior Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .263-1-30, in the outfield.
Junior Steve Kelly (Fairfield, Ohio), who posted an 8-2 record and a 4.73 ERA in 2000, returns and should join Parrott and Sager in the weekend starting rotation. Techs bullpen of senior Andy Mitchell (Conyers, Ga.), junior Kevin Cameron (Joliet, Ill.) and sophomores Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.) and Philip Perry (Marietta, Ga) combined for a 17-3 record and 13 saves last spring.
“It’s fun to get back to practice and our guys have a great attitude right now,” said Hall. “We need to get our pitching staff in shape and ready to go, and that will be a primary focus over the next few weeks. We also need to find out who is going to fill a couple of spots in the field. Left field and first base are still undetermined, and we need to see how the catching situation is going to settle out. But as I look at it, those are all great problems to have because we have several people who are more than capable of playing well in those spots.”
Seven of Tech’s 2001 opponents appear in Collegiate Baseballs Top 30 Nebraska at No. 4, Clemson at No. 5, Rice at No. 7, Florida State at No. 8, Georgia at No. 16, Auburn at No. 18 and Wake Forest at No. 28.
The Jackets will have seven games televised live, including two appearances on the ACC Saturday Game of the Week (Fox Sports Net South, Sunshine Network and Home Team Sports) against Wake Forest on Apr. 14 an Florida State on Apr. 28. Five other games — Apr. 10 vs. Georgia Southern, Apr. 13 and 15 vs. Wake Forest, Apr. 24 vs. Georgia, and Apr. 27 vs. Florida State — will be televised on Fox Sports Net South.
Tech opens its 2000 season Feb. 9-11 at the Crowne Plaza/Rice Invitational in Houston where the Yellow Jackets will face top-10 foes Nebraska and Rice. After road trips to Georgia Southern and Georgia, the Jackets home opener is Feb. 23 against Elon. The ACC Tournament will be held May 15-20 at Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, S.C., site of Techs championship a year ago.
“I look at our first six games being on the road, and I probably need my head examined for scheduling like that,” said Hall. “The first tournament of the year could very well be a preview of some teams that have a great chance to reach Omaha with Nebraska and Rice. The first six on the road is not easy, but for us to be a good team we are going to have to go on the road and play well.”