No. 4 Baseball sweeps Rutgers in weekend set, now 10-1

Tech’s No. 4 baseball team continued its strong start to 2010 with a weekend sweep of Rutgers at Russ Chandler Stadium from March 5-7. Another stellar pitching performance by junior right-hander Deck McGuire led the way to a 5-0 victory on Friday afternoon, and Tech’s bats powered the way to a 19-5 win on Saturday and a 9-4 triumph on Sunday.

The start of Friday’s game was not easy for McGuire, as the junior struggled with his control, particularly in locating his offspeed pitches. McGuire gave up three hits and a walk in the first two innings and threw a wild pitch. Despite allowing runners to reach third base in both of the first two innings he escaped without surrendering a run.

After that, the junior was in command. From the third inning on, McGuire allowed just three hits and did not let a Rutgers runner reach third base.

“He pitched out of a jam in the first inning and really settled in and started throwing his fastball downhill, and he had great location…I was really impressed from the middle innings on with how he threw his fastball,” said Head Coach Danny Hall.

McGuire had to throw more pitches in the first couple of innings, but later on he took advantage of the Scarlet Knights’ aggressiveness early in the count and induced a number of quick outs.

“Today I felt like I did a good job initiating contact. I got a lot of first-pitch swings, and pop-ups and ground balls. I think that’s the most ground balls I’ve ever had in my life, so I’m looking forward to continuing that trend,” McGuire said.

All in all, it was a very efficient performance for McGuire. He threw 96 pitches in eight innings, allowing six hits and a walk while striking out nine. He lowered his season ERA to 0.82 and his season WHIP to 0.95, and his opponents’ batting average dropped to .231.

McGuire received all the run support he needed in the first inning. Each of Tech’s first four hitters reached base, with senior first baseman Tony Plagman’s RBI single driving home junior center fielder Jeff Rowland.

With the bases loaded, Rutgers pitcher Casey Gaynor balked, allowing junior shortstop Derek Dietrich to score. Sophomore third baseman Matt Skole capped off scoring with a sac fly.

“For whatever reason we’ve had trouble scoring runs on Friday nights from time to time…Jumping out to an early lead like that was big,” McGuire said.

Tech was quiet until the seventh, when Rowland hit a solo homer; it was his third of the season and capped a 2-for-4 day for the leadoff man, who was hitting just .219 entering the game.

“He was just trying to be a little more patient…Today I thought he had a good approach at the plate,” Hall said.

Sophomore second baseman Jacob Esch drove in Skole on an RBI double in the eighth to cap the Jackets’ scoring on the day.

McGuire had hoped to take the mound in the ninth and attempt to pick up his first complete game, but he was relieved by junior closer Kevin Jacob.

“I felt like today was a pretty good chance for me to go out and finish one. But… I have no problem with coming out and letting any one of [our relievers] come in to finish,” McGuire said.

“We had a nice lead and no need to extend [McGuire], and I honestly just want to get Jacob in there more, just to get him more consistent work,” Hall said.

Jacob pitched a scoreless frame to seal the 5-0 victory. It was Tech’s fifth shutout of the year, accounting for more than half the team’s games to that point.

Saturday’s contest was a far different story, as Tech’s bats were the key to victory. Eight players had at least one RBI, and the Jackets racked up 20 hits in the 19-5 win.

Tech’s lineup exploded for double-digit runs to build a comfortable lead. The Jackets batted around in an eight-run second inning, then put up four runs in the fifth and scored in each of the three following innings.

The biggest star at the plate was junior catcher Cole Leonida, who went 4-for-5 on the day and had Tech’s only home run in the rout. Leonida led off the big second inning for Tech and had two hits in the frame, including his homer.

Esch went 3-for-4 with a walk, scoring four runs and driving in two. Plagman and redshirt senior left fielder Jay Dantzler each had three RBI, and Skole reached base in five of his six plate appearances, going 3-for-4 with a pair of walks.

The offensive outburst has been a trend for the Jackets this year; they have scored at least 15 runs in each of their three Saturday games in 2010.

The strong hitting helped Tech overcome a shaky start by junior right-hander Brandon Cumpton. Despite permitting just one hit in seven innings a week earlier against Xavier, Cumpton ran into trouble quickly against Rutgers as a more patient Scarlet Knights lineup scored four runs while forcing him to throw 39 pitches in the first inning.

Cumpton settled down afterward, though, giving up a run in the third but otherwise holding the Rutgers bats in check. He left the game after five innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on seven hits and two walks.

Ultimately, the Jackets went on to a 19-5 win after four relievers—freshman right-hander Luke Bard, senior right-hander Patrick Long, junior left-hander Zach Brewster and freshman left-hander Jake Davies—each pitched a scoreless inning to finish the game.

Sunday’s series finale saw Tech combine a strong start from sophomore left-hander Jed Bradley with another quick strike at the plate in picking up a 9-4 victory.

The Jackets’ power bats were sharp from the start, as two doubles and a Skole two-run homer resulted in a four-run first inning. Two frames later, junior right fielder Chase Burnette clocked a three-run shot as part of another four-run inning, and the Jackets led 8-0 after three.

It was all the scoring they would need, as sophomore left-hander Jed Bradley rebounded from a rough start a week earlier against Xavier. Bradley displayed the form he had shown in his opening weekend start against Missouri State as he pitched six shutout innings, allowing four hits and no walks while striking out nine. He was efficient in shutting down the Rutgers lineup, throwing just 79 pitches.

After Sunday’s start, Bradley’s season ERA dipped to 2.12. In 17.0 innings pitched, he has allowed just 17 base runners and has recorded 27 strikeouts.

Freshman right-hander Buck Farmer and senior right-hander Andrew Robinson held Rutgers scoreless in the seventh and eighth, respectively.

With Jacob on to pitch the ninth, though, the Scarlet Knights avoided the shutout in a big way. Jacob, who entered the game with a 1.76 ERA, gave up four runs on two walks and two hits, including a three-run homer.

Still, the comeback attempt fell well short, and the Jackets completed the sweep with a 9-4 win.

After Wednesday’s midweek game at Mercer was rained out, the Jackets will return to the diamond on Mar. 12, opening ACC play in a weekend set against Wake Forest at Russ Chandler Stadium. The series precedes Tech’s first game against Georgia on March 16.

McGuire will take the mound for the Friday night game, and the junior is looking forward to the start of conference play this coming weekend.

“I’m slowly getting stronger after taking the summer off…and I’m starting to get a better feel for pitching and just a better feel overall. I think I’m right where I want to be going into ACC play,” McGuire said.