Baseball cruises through four more

Tech’s No. 2 baseball team rebounded from its third loss of the season in strong fashion, collecting four wins over the past week. The Jackets rode an offensive outburst to three big home wins over Duke from April 2-4, then avenged the previous week’s loss to Kennesaw State with an 8-2 victory on April 6.

Tech improved to 26-3 overall, and the team’s 11-1 record in ACC play has the team atop the conference standings.

As junior right-hander Deck McGuire took the mound for Tech on Friday, April 2, it appeared that he was on his way to another stellar performance. McGuire, who entered the game with a season ERA of 1.17, struck out the first two Blue Devil hitters and cleared three innings without allowing a baserunner.

Duke left-handed starter Chris Manno was shaky in the early innings. Manno allowed two baserunners in the first inning, but he managed to strand both. One inning later, Tech got on the board thanks to an RBI double by sophomore second baseman Jacob Esch, who scored on a balk to put Tech up 2-0.

The Jackets’ lead increased to 3-0 in the third when senior first baseman Tony Plagman, who was hit by a pitch after working to a full count, scored on an RBI double by sophomore third baseman Matt Skole.

On the mound, McGuire ran into trouble in the fourth, as Duke closed the gap to 3-2 and had the bases loaded with one out, but McGuire induced an inning-ending double play to escape.

“He made some bad pitches with two strikes… But he settled in and pitched out of it,” said Head Coach Danny Hall.

McGuire kept the Blue Devil bats quiet in the next two innings, and in the bottom of the sixth Tech exploded for eight runs.

Manno—who had thrown 102 pitches in the first five innings—hit Skole with his first pitch of the sixth, and junior right fielder Chase Burnette then launched a drive to right for a two-run homer.

“We grinded some at-bats early on and got his pitch count up; you could tell he got tired there late,” Hall said.

Manno was pulled, but Tech continued to hit; the Jackets batted around, sending 11 hitters to the plate, and at the end of the sixth they led 11-2.

Tech added a run in the seventh and another in the eighth, and the game ended 13-3 in Tech’s favor.

McGuire was solid on the day, allowing three earned runs on six hits and a walk in seven innings pitched while striking out five. Freshman right-hander Clay Dalton pitched two scoreless innings.

Burnette had a strong day at the plate, going 3-for-5 with a homer, three RBI and two runs scored. Junior catcher Cole Leonida went 3-for-5 with an RBI double as he continued to thrive in the cleanup spot in the lineup.

“It seems like every time I come up, there’s a guy on base and there’s more pressure on the pitcher. I’ve [also] got great protection behind me with Skole and Chase,” Leonida said.

Tech’s bats remained hot on Saturday, as the Jackets recorded their third 20-run game of 2010.

Junior center fielder Jeff Rowland continued to be a surprising run producer at the top of the order. Rowland went 3-for-5 with a homer, four runs scored and five RBI, and he was a triple shy of the cycle. Junior shortstop Derek Dietrich went 3-for-4 with a pair of homers, three runs and four RBI.

Plagman went 4-for-5 with a double, and Skole hit his eighth homer and had three RBI.

The support was more than enough for Tech junior right-hander Brandon Cumpton on the mound. Cumpton allowed 10 hits to the Blue Devils, but he held Duke scoreless through five innings and left after seven, giving up three runs.

By the time Cumpton departed, Tech was up 16-3 and Head Coach Danny Hall had reserves in at nearly every position. Redshirt sophomore outfielder Matt Simonds had a two-run homer, sophomore infielder Connor Winn hit a three-run double, and redshirt sophomore outfielder Roddy Jones recorded the first hit of his collegiate career. Tech ultimately won 21-5.

The Jackets used a familiar formula to complete the sweep on Friday, getting a solid start from sophomore left-hander Jed Bradley and scoring quickly to earn the 9-4 win.

After picking up two runs in the first, Tech used fourth-inning homers from Burnette and junior designated hitter Thomas Nichols to pile up five runs and chase O’Grady from the game.

Bradley, meanwhile, had little trouble as he went six strong innings. The southpaw gave up two runs (one earned) on nine hits and a walk while striking out seven. The relief corps held down the fort, and Tech completed the sweep.

Burnette continued his hot hitting with another good game, going 3-for-4 with the homer and three RBI. Skole added a solo homer, Plagman had two RBI, and Dietrich went 3-for-4 with a pair of runs scored.

Two days after the series finale, Tech welcomed Kennesaw State to Russ Chandler Stadium. The Owls had defeated the Jackets 7-4 in Kennesaw six days earlier, but Tech returned the favor with an 8-2 victory.

KSU struck first with a run in the top of the first, but Tech bounced back with three in the bottom half, capping the scoring with a Skole solo homer.

Tech added another run in the fourth and got a two-run homer from Burnette, his 10th of the year, to expand the lead to 6-2.

Tech sophomore Mark Pope, meanwhile, was in command on the mound. He went eight innings, surrendering two runs on just the four hits and no walks while striking out six.

Plagman, Burnette and Nichols each had a pair of RBI, and freshman right-hander Buck Farmer came on to pitch the ninth and recorded three strikeouts as the Jackets won 8-2.

Tech now enters arguably its toughest road stretch of the season. The Jackets will be in Charlottesville for a three-game set against No. 4 Virginia this weekend, and on Wednesday they will take on Georgia in Athens.