May 5, 2014
Next Game: Today, vs. North Florida, at Russ Chandler Stadium. First pitch, 4:00 p.m.
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
– The 2014 baseball season has wound down to its final two weekends and Georgia Tech appears poised to continue several of its traditions.
The Yellow Jackets are in good shape to win 30 games — something they’ve done every year in 21 seasons under head coach Danny Hall.
They’re in solid position to earn a berth in the 10-team ACC Tournament field — something they’ve never missed under Hall.
They appear to be a solid choice to make it to the NCAA Tournament — something for which they’ve qualified 28 times in 30 years since 1985 and every season under Hall.
A big reason for the continuation of what have become Georgia Tech postseason traditions is the continuation of their in-season tradition of getting top-notch leadership from inside the clubhouse.
Establishing the kind of credibility they have began long before the first pitch in February. It began before the first batting practice pitch was thrown in the Fall.
“Between Mott, Devin and Dusty Isaacs they did a tremendous job when our freshmen got here of making them feel a part of the team,” said Hall. “They’ve done a great job of leading by example and if they need to be vocal about things they’ve done that. But they’ve blended the freshmen into the culture of Georgia Tech baseball, brought them along and I think that’s one of the reasons we’re having a good year, and we’re trying to close some of these games out down the stretch to get into position for postseason.”
Each of the three has not only been the ideal role model, showing a tremendous work ethic, and performing superbly on the field but also has displaying the willingness to sacrifice and put the team first regarding their roles.
Isaacs has moved into the bullpen as closer and trouble-shooter, Stanton began the year in the `pen, then was moved to the rotation and has excelled as the Saturday starter — his story is even more inspirational as he’s coming off Tommy John surgery — and Hyde, who had no problem swallowing his pride in moving from shortstop, where he’d started the previous two seasons, to second — handing over his position to the freshman, Justus.
The challenge facing the captains seemed huge, as the ’14 Jackets needed to break in 14 freshmen, all of whom have contributed, and make them buy in. That they did.
“Dusty and Devin Stanton control the pitchers, and Mott really just takes over the position players,” said shortstop Connor Justus. “He talks us through everything, and keeps us up in the dugout and really leads our team to victory most of the time.”
Through the leadership of their triumvirate, the Jackets have showed an ability to fill roles when called upon, to overcome adversity and to compete on a night-in, night-out basis, making them a nightmare match-up.
Despite playing the seventh-toughest schedule in the country, the Jackets’ RPI was No. 32 and the toughest in the ACC, they have more than held their own against the top competition. They are 8-7 against RPI Top 50, 16-14 vs. the Top 100 and 6-3 versus ranked teams. That includes a series victory over then national No. 1 Florida State — the Jackets will take aim at the current No. 1 this weekend when they visit Virginia.
Having to herd so many youngsters was a difficult task, especially with so many becoming important contributors — catcher Arden Pabst, third baseman Brandon Gold, shortstop Justus, and outfielders Ryan Peurifoy and Keenan Innis, infielder Elliot Barzilli are getting every-day playing time, pitcher Ben Parr, has worked his way into the weekend rotation, and relievers Tanner Shelton, Ben Schneiderjans, Zac Ryan and Matthew Gorst have produced in key spots out of the pen.
Making the job easier is where the trio came from. They all came in together in 2011, as part of the 17-member freshman class, the largest in recent Georgia Tech history. That group went 42-21, was ACC regular-season co-champion and hosted a regional, finishing runner-up. The incoming ’11 class got major contributions from Hyde and fellow freshmen — and current pros — Kyle Wren, Daniel Palka and Zane Evans, as well as current senior Matt Grimes filling the midweek role. They also had upperclassman leadership from then-junior position players Jake Davies and Matt Skole and pitchers Mark Pope and Jed Bradley. With Davies and Skole leading the position players and Pope and Bradley the examples for the pitchers.
The ’14 Jackets tri-captains have had a similar variety amongst its leaders and Stanton believes it’s been a very effective combination.
“Mott can really connect with the position players more than me and Dusty because he’s with them through and through,” said Stanton. “He’s with them in the cage, he’s with them out in the field. So he has that credibility. Dusty has the charisma, he’s the louder one, he’s the vocal leader and he plays that role but all three of us working together, we have been playing to our strengths.”
“I think it’s really important,” said Isaacs. “Whether I’ve been starting or in the bullpen I like to think I’m somebody that the younger guys can follow. The experience more than anything is something I can really offer. I don’t think there are going to be many situations that I get into that I can’t handle or haven’t seen before. Hopefully we can ride that out the rest of the season.”
The Jackets have a lot to play for on that ride. It begins with emotional stretch beginning with the weekend set against the Cavaliers in Charlottesville. Then, two days later, they’ll play the rubber game against Georgia at Turner Field in the 12th annual Kauffman Tire Spring Baseball Classic for Kids. After a season-closing weekend against South Florida at Russ Chandler, comes the ACC Tournament at Newbridge Bank Park in Greensboro, N.C. — they’re currently the seventh seed — and then, they hope, an NCAA Tournament Regional.
While the freshmen have walked the gauntlet bravely to this point, that final stretch provides their biggest. They can consider themselves fortunate to have their triumvirate of captains to lean on and look to.
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