April 28, 2011
By Jon Cooper
No. 8 Georgia Tech (30-12, 17-4) at No. 18 Clemson (27-14, 11-10)
Eighth-ranked Georgia Tech heads into arguably its most hostile environment, as they visit No. 18 Clemson for a weekend set with the Tigers at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Tech, which has won seven of its last 10 games, lost, 6-4, to Georgia on Tuesday in the annual Spring Classic For Kids played at Turner Field. The loss snapped the Yellow Jackets’ three-game winning streak and ended a five-game win streak over UGA. Freshman DH Daniel Palka went 3-for-4 with a homer, an RBI and three runs scored, but the Jackets were undone by a five-run fourth inning. The loss was the fourth in the last five midweek games and the second time this season they have dropped back-to-back midweek games.
The Tigers made it nine wins in their last 10 games on Wednesday night, topping Western Carolina, 6-4, in an eight-inning affair that was shortened by lightning in the area. Junior shortstop Brad Miller was the hitting start, going 3-for-3, including a two-run first-inning double in a three-run first. Miller raised his average to .431. Western cut the lead to 5-4 with a four-run fifth, but would get no closer.
Georgia Tech and Clemson, both currently residing in second place in their respective divisions, have met 202 times coming into this weekend, with Clemson holding a razor-thin 100-99 edge (there have been three undecided games). The teams have held serve at home in each of the last four series and Clemson holds an all-time 20-43-1 record at home.
Last Time We Met: Last season provided mixed emotions for Georgia Tech, as they swept Clemson in a three-game regular-season series at Russ Chandler, but lost to the Tigers in the ACC Tournament. The regular season series, opened in dramatic fashion, as the Yellow Jackets took a 10-inning 8-6 decision. Andrew Robinson pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the tenth, then Chase Burnette won the game in the bottom half, with a two-run homer. Matt Skole set up the walk-off by drawing a two-out walk. In the Saturday game, Brandon Cumpton pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and Jeff Rowland came up with a two-out RBI single in the seventh to provide the margin of victory and earn Tech its 30th win of the season. In the finale, Rowland, Tony Plagman and Jacob Esch each had four hits, as Tech pounded out 17 hits to back Jed Bradley in an 11-3 rout to complete the sweep. The Tigers got a measure of revenge in the ACC Tournament, scoring three first-inning runs off Bradley and never looking back in a 9-3 win.
The Race Is On…: There could be a milestone set this weekend, as both Georgia Tech Head Coach Danny Hall and Clemson Head Coach Jack Leggett are approaching 300 ACC wins. Hall, in his 17th season, enters the weekend with a record of 297-160-1 (a .650 winning percentage), while Leggett is in his 18th season, with a record of 298-153-1 (a .660 win percentage. So a sweep by Georgia Tech would get Hall the magic number, while a Clemson series win gets Leggett there first. “I don’t even think about it and I doubt if he does,” said Hall, adding with a laugh, “But I hope I get there before he does.”
Starting Something: This weekend brings together two of the best lead-off hitters in the ACC and two of the top hitters, period, in Georgia Tech’s Kyle Wren and Clemson’s Brad Miller. Miller currently leads the ACC with a .431 average, while Wren, who has been near the top all season long, is in second at .378. It should be pointed out that Wren has been up 180 times in 42 games, while Miller has been up 116 times in 32. Another category where the two are close is in triples, where Wren is second in the ACC with five, while Miller is tied for fifth, with three. Wren also leads the ACC in hits (68, Miller is tied for 19th with 50), while Miller is 1st in on-base percentage (.535, Wren is 14th at .438).
Really Close: While their methods are different, the bottom line is not a whole lot different in the Yellow Jackets and Tigers offenses. The teams are 1-2 in the ACC in batting average, with Tech holding a slim three-point lead (.316-.313), while Clemson has scored one more run (293-292). Tech has played 42 games, Clemson 41. The difference comes in power vs. speed. The Yellow Jackets have an edge in extra-base hits, 142 to 123 (99-85 in doubles, 30-25 in homers, both teams have 13 triples), while the Tigers have drawn 25 more walks (205-180) and have stolen more bases (77-46). Both have been successful, as the Tigers have a 79.4 percent success rate) while Tech’s 46-for-59 gives them a .780). Teams also are stealing a little more regularly against Tech — an opposing success rate of .822 — than Clemson (.745).
Really Close, Part II: The pitching and defense aren’t that far apart, either. Tech is more than half-a-run better per game in ERA (2.83 to 3.45), with five complete games to one for Clemson, but the staffs are one hit (Tech 322, Clemson 321), and five runs apart (advantage Tech, 165-170). The Jackets hold a substantial edge in strikeouts, their 382 are 66 more than Clemson, and have allowed 20 fewer earned runs (119-139). Both teams field about the same, as the teams are separated by one-one-thousandth of a point (Tech’s at .969, Clemson .968). The Jackets have made three more errors (51-48).
He Could Have Been Mine: This weekend will be freshman Daniel Palka’s return to the Palmetto state. A native of Lyman, and former five-time letterman and one-year captain at Greer High School, the slugging first baseman/DH originally committed to Clemson before reconsidering and committing to Georgia Tech. Sting Daily will have more on Palka and his return home on Sunday.
On Deck: Georgia Tech is off next week before heading to the windy city for a three-game wraparound series (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) with the University of Illinois-Chicago. Clemson has a unique weekend as well, as they play three with Gardner-Webb, hosting a double-header on Saturday then traveling to Greenville for the finale.