Baseball heads upwards as semester ends

Photo by Casey Miles

It has not been without some trademark Tech athletics volatility, but Jackets baseball is so far well on its way to besting last year’s middling 27-28 final mark for the season.

The Jackets have put together long series of wins and demoralizing strings of losses, but after the dust settles, they are clearly a better team than they were last season, both at the plate and in the bullpen.

For proof, the statistics are a clear indicator. Tech’s pitching staff has put together a 4.66 ERA this season. That number is not good — it puts them above only Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Boston College in the conference — but it is a clear improvement over last year’s gruesome 5.36 ERA mark.

An early instinct might be to write off the difference in the two marks based on quality of opponents faced; after all, the Jackets have not yet wrapped up their conference schedule, so their numbers might be padded by weak opponents. And indeed, two of the three highest-scoring teams in the conference loom ahead on Tech’s slate.

But given that the Jackets’ ERA at this point last season was an astronomical 5.57, there is likely real improvement afoot. Tech’s staff will not dominate many games, but that is not their job.

And that pitching effort, while not stellar, has been enough for the Jackets to pull out an 8-7 record against conference opponents, thanks to one of the best scoring attacks in the nations. Tech ranks No. 11 nationally in batting average, and a less impressive but still solid No. 54 in runs per game, with a 6.7-per clip.

Special mention must go to junior Tristin English, who spent his sophomore year rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery. All English has done since returning from that injury, once a death knell for athletes, has been improving his numbers from freshman year across the board. His on-base percentage has increased, and he is about to match his freshman RBI production in about half the games. And that freshman campaign was good enough for English to be named First-Team All-ACC. English leads the Jackets with 40 RBI — more than one per game, and No. 7 nationally.

In some ways, Tech’s recent series with Florida State was emblematic of their occasional brilliance and frustrating inconsistency this year. In the first game, the No. 6 Seminoles shelled the Jackets, 10-2, behind an three-RBI performance from the Seminoles’ Nick Derr. The Jackets put one run on the board in the first inning and another in the eighth, but their offensive work was nothing compared to that of their visitors from Tallahassee.

Whatever Coach Danny
Hall told his pitching staff in between the first and second games of the series, it certainly worked. The Jackets allowed only one run in their next outing. Again, the Jackets’ bats were quiet, but thanks to a complete game from Connor Thomas, Tech eked out a 2-1 win.

Those games set up a Sunday rubber match-up, a chance for Tech to either show that they were lucky to eke out a close win the day before or deserving of respect. They chose the latter, in a dominating 16-3 win. The aforementioned Tristin English went six innings and surrendered a single run, and the offensive effort was too strong to allow FSU a chance at a comeback. Achieving that level of performance every game is unlikely, but it hints at what the Jackets can be if they put the pieces together.