Posted: 11:41 am Monday, March 24th, 2014
By Ken Sugiura
Georgia Tech’s baseball team is coach Danny Hall’s first to start the season unranked, and it’s freshman-dominated, but the Yellow Jackets achieved a considerable accomplishment with their series win at No. 13 North Carolina – Tech took series from ranked opponents in back-to-back weekends for the first time since 2006.
The Jackets took two of three against then-No. 22 Miami the weekend prior. They are now 15-9 overall and 5-4 in the ACC.
“We had a good week,” coach Danny Hall said. “We played five games and all of them on the road and went 4-1. That’s certainly a good week for our team. Anybody would take that if you knew you were going to play five games on the road.”
Tech again received excellent support from its bullpen in winning in Chapel Hill. Relievers Sam Clay, Dusty Isaacs, Matthew Gorst, Jonathan Roberts, Tanner Shelton and Zac Ryan threw a combined 15 2/3 innings and gave up just two earned runs. The Tar Heels collectively batted .231 against them.
The pen was particularly critical in the second game of the series, a 6-5 win in 13 innings that evened the series Saturday. Starter Devin Stanton came out of the game after five innings with the score tied 3-3. Gorst, Roberts, Shelton and Isaacs gave up nine hits over the final eight innings, but only gave up two runs, giving Tech time to win it with RBI singles from freshman Connor Justus and Mitch Earnest in the top of the 13th.
The depth of Tech’s bullpen thus far has stood out from recent teams. A remarkable stat, courtesy of Tech sports information staffer Mike DeGeorge – the Jackets have trailed in each of their past 11 wins. It speaks to timely hitting, but that also doesn’t happen without relievers keeping the team in games.
“We’ve had guys that were pretty good starters, and then our bullpen hasn’t been as good,” Hall said. “But I think one of the things we’re trying to do is just try and get a complete pitching staff and have guys that can start for us and give us some good innings there and have guys that come in out of the bullpen and be just as good as the guy we took out.”
Clay, a freshman, was considered a possible starter, Hall said, “but (pitching coach) Jason Howell, he had probably the strongest voice that he wanted to keep Sam in the bullpen just so we keep our bullpen a strength.”
Clay has a 0.00 ERA in seven appearances (all in relief) in 13.1 innings, with 17 strikeouts against five walks and a .178 opponent batting average.
Tech still has seven more ACC series to go before the end of the season – the Jackets have played three thus far – but the identity of this team is being shaped after the season began with a lot of questions about the 14 freshmen and the need to replace a lot of offense.
“I guess our team has settled a little bit, but I do think we’re getting better,” Hall said.
Hall has a weekend rotation with Josh Heddinger, Stanton and Matthew Grimes. Offensively, Tech doesn’t have much pop – eight home runs in 24 games – but has shown balance. Five players are hitting above .300 and two more are over .290. The team has 34 sacrifice bunts or flies – more than half of last year’s total – in a little more than a third of the at-bats. Hall said he sees a greater commitment to be a team-oriented offense.
“I think they understand that we have to do those things to play well and they’ve kind of bought into it and they’re pretty committed to it,” Hall said.
It’s still only March, though. Tech will be home against Mercer Tuesday night and then at Pittsburgh this weekend.
Said Hall, “We’ve still got a long way to go.”