A combination of stellar pitching and power hitting guided Tech baseball to three wins in its season-opening series against Missouri State from Feb. 19-21. The No. 3 Jackets then traveled to Statesboro, Ga. and improved to 5-0 with a pair of midweek wins on Feb. 23-24 at Georgia Southern.
Against MSU, Tech rode a strong start by junior right-hander Deck McGuire to a 4-0 win in Friday’s opener. The lineup, led by senior first baseman Tony Plagman and junior right fielder Chase Burnette, then came alive and guided Tech to a 20-3 win on Saturday and a 13-0 victory on Sunday.
“I know we’re all really excited about this year…This is exactly the way we wanted to start off,” Burnette said.
McGuire, one of two First Team Preseason All-Americans on Tech’s roster, was in command from the start as he took the mound on Friday. The junior struck out the first two batters he faced to quickly end to the top of the first.
Junior center fielder Jeff Rowland led off the bottom of the first by driving an 0-2 pitch over the right field wall, giving the Jackets a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Jackets added to their lead as Plagman, leading off the inning for Tech, launched a solo home run to right-center.
McGuire left after pitching a scoreless seventh. He went seven strong innings, allowing five hits and no walks while striking out 10.
Senior right-hander Andrew Robinson pitched a scoreless eighth, and junior closer Kevin Jacob, Tech’s other First Team Preseason All-American, struck out the side in the ninth to give the Jackets a 4-0 victory.
Saturday’s game saw junior right-hander Brandon Cumpton take the mound for Tech and pitch well, but it was the offense that stole the spotlight.
After Tech scored six runs through three innings, MSU starter Mike Kickham was pulled for right-hander Tyler Bean to start the fourth. Bean fared no better, leaving after giving up nine runs on eight hits and a walk while getting just two outs.
Tech did not get a home run in the fourth but picked up eight RBI hits, including a Rowland triple, to increase the lead to 15-2.
Cumpton left the game after five innings. He allowed two runs on seven hits and no walks.
Head Coach Danny Hall put in his reserves, inserting backups across the field and using four relievers to finish the game. That group, which included freshmen Luke Bard and Ben McKinney, combined to allow just one run on two hits as Tech completed the 20-3 victory.
In the Sunday finale Tech sent sophomore Jed Bradley, their lone southpaw starter, to face MSU righty Pat Doyle.
Bradley was in command, never allowing an MSU hitter to get past second base. He left after six innings and allowed just four hits and a walk. His 12 strikeouts (out of 22 hitters faced) were a career-high.
On the offensive side, Burnette and Dantzler led off the second and fourth innings with home runs. A series of Tech hits and MSU mistakes then led to a four-run fifth inning for Tech.
Tech loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh as Leonida stepped to the plate. The catcher launched a drive down the left field line for a grand slam, and Tech led 10-0.
Freshman Buck Farmer, senior Andrew Robinson and Jacob each pitched an inning in relief to complete the shutout, and Tech added three more runs late and won 13-0 to sweep the series.
Bradley threw just 72 pitches in his six innings, getting most of his 12 strikeouts on 0-2 or 1-2 counts. He was named ACC Pitcher of the Week.
“[Bradley] dominated the game. That’s the way he had thrown in our intra-squad games heading into the season…He [was] great,” Hall said.
With the sweep complete, Tech traveled south to take on Georgia Southern in two midweek games.
Sophomore right-hander Mark Pope got the start in Tuesday’s game and threw six shutout innings, giving up four hits and no walks and striking out seven. Bard finished the game with three perfect innings in relief.
Tech drew eight walks, and seven players had an RBI as the Jackets picked up a 10-0 victory.
The win on Wednesday was harder to secure, but Tech held on for an 8-5 win to finish the 5-0 start.
Farmer got the start for Tech and went five innings, allowing two runs on three hits in what was a low-scoring game until the end.
The teams were tied 3-3 after seven innings, but key hits by Leonida and sophomore second baseman Jacob Esch, who had three RBI, helped Tech open up a lead in the final innings. Jacob got the final four outs for his first save as the Jackets won 8-5.