By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
THE FLATS – It’s sublime when random things come together to create something special.
For example, this weekend the following have come together: a fall Saturday, weather expected to be sunny and in the high-80s to low-90s, and Georgia Tech Football playing Friday night.
Add it up and you get the perfect opportunity to watch Georgia Tech Baseball!
The best part is that it’s cool with the NCAA.
College sports’ governing body passed a rule beginning this fall, allowing teams to play two games against outside competition during fall practices that doesn’t count against the 56-game spring schedule.
The Yellow Jackets will play the first of those two games Saturday at Russ Chandler Stadium against SEC power South Carolina (first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.). They’ll host Chattahoochee Valley Community College on Oct. 27 before beginning the White-Gold World Series to conclude the fall.
“I think it’s great that the NCAA has given us a couple of games. They’re exhibition games but they’re kind of a trial run for our team to play against somebody else,” said Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall. “Obviously, this is going to be great competition with South Carolina rolling in here. They’re not only an SEC power, but they’re also a national power. So to get to compete against them this fall will certainly give our freshmen a look at what that competition is going to look like. It gives us a chance to evaluate everything that we’re working on against outside competition.”
He added, “It’s been probably a long time coming and certainly is something that I think will benefit college baseball. If nothing else, if students and fans are not going to watch college football on Saturday they can stroll over to Russ Chandler Stadium and watch a little baseball.”
Hall credits the scheduling of the game with South Carolina to the Jackets’ ACC rival and Gamecocks’ Palmetto State rival Clemson.
“[Clemson Head Coach] Monte Lee talked to me this summer – we were on a recruiting trip – and he was talking about the possibility of trying to play a fall game in SunTrust Park,” Hall recalled. “I think he was looking at the time they would possibly play Auburn, we’d play South Carolina and do it in SunTrust. That’s something down the road that we might be able to work out. So I called Mark Kingston, South Carolina’s coach, to see if he would be interested in playing and he said, ‘Yeah. We’ll come over and play you.’”
South Carolina will make a perfect first opponent. They reached the Super Regionals in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and even though they lost two of their best players – second baseman Carlos Cortes, the team’s home run leader, and junior right-hander Adam Hill, the leader in strikeouts – to Major League Baseball’s Draft, they are still the caliber of competition Hall wants his team, looking to replace ACC Player of the Year catcher Joey Bart and offensive catalyst second baseman Wade Bailey, to see.
“I wanted somebody tough, that would simulate an ACC weekend, where you’re going to see good pitchers, you’re going to see a competitive team,” he said.
The Yellow Jackets players are jazzed about the opportunity to see such a powerful opponent.
“We know South Carolina is a good team. We know that last year they went to the Super Regional,” said junior right-hander Connor Thomas, an All-ACC First-Teamer and the team’s ERA and strikeouts leader last season. “With that in mind, we’re taking this as a moment to come together as a team and see what we’re made of. To see elite competition this early on and be able to play as a team will be huge for team-chemistry. It’ll be a good test Saturday.”
“I think it’s really exciting. The team’s excited,” said junior pitcher/1B/DH and two-time All-ACC First-Teamer Tristin English. “In years past, we haven’t been able to play anybody outside of ourselves and this year to be able to play, not only another school but a power-five SEC school is a really good way for us to kind of prepare for what we’re going to see almost every weekend in the ACC. It’s a team that we haven’t played since I’ve been here and I think it will be fun to test where we are in comparison to where we think we are.”
It’s been 13 years since the schools met – the last time being June 4-6, 2005 in the NCAA Atlanta Regional, won by Georgia Tech. Tech and South Carolina have met 51 times, with the Gamecocks holding a 34-16-1 edge. Tech has never played Chatt Valley.
Saturday will be a lot different than an NCAA Regional, beginning with the relaxed rules.
“We can play unlimited innings, so we’re going to play 14 innings,” said Hall. “It’s going to be free substitution. You can re-enter guys. So we can just kind of do whatever we need to do. It’s a great thing and I look forward to doing it on Saturday.”
Hall will sit pitchers English, who will still hit and play the field, junior righty reliever Andy Archer, and midweek starter, sophomore lefty Brant Hurter, as well as center-fielder Carter Hall and OF/IF Michael Guldberg but plans to get a look at as many players and pitchers as he can in as many different roles as he can.
“We’ll move a lot of guys around in different positions, for sure,” he said. “This weekend, nobody is going to throw more than two innings. I probably won’t throw everybody that is on our staff. C.T. (Thomas) will throw two, Xzavion (Curry) will throw two, (JUCO transfer) Amos Willingham will probably throw two, (incoming freshman Luke) Bartnicki might get two, (incoming freshman Cort) Roedig, then we might just piece an inning here and there with some of the other guys. The three guys I’d really like to see are Willingham, Roedig and Bartnicki. I just want to see how they react against an SEC opponent.”
The rules may be relaxed but there will still be a lot at stake, not only Saturday, but also on the 27th against Chatt Valley.