The start of the season was far from perfect for the Tech baseball team, but the Jackets still finished off the first week of play with a winning record. Tech won two of three in the season-opening home weekend series against Kent State and split a midweek series at Georgia Southern to open the year with a 3-2 record.
Friday afternoon’s season opener saw the Jackets ride strong play by several freshman hitters and right-handed junior starting pitcher Mark Pope to a 6-3 victory.
The Tech lineup featured plenty of unfamiliar names, as junior Matt Skole’s absence meant six freshmen were in the lineup. The man on the mound was a junior, though, and Pope set down the Golden Flashes in the top of the first.
The Jackets promptly jumped on Kent State starter Kyle Hallock in the bottom of the first. The leadoff man, freshman center fielder Kyle Wren, knocked a base hit to left center and used his speed to turn it into a double for his first career hit.
“Getting the first hit out of the way is the biggest thing…it allowed me to relax and concentrate more,” Wren said.
Through four innings, Pope had recorded four strikeouts and had not allowed a Kent State player to get past first base. The Golden Flashes rallied for two runs in the top of the fifth, but Tech added a run in the bottom half on an RBI single by sophomore right fielder Brandon Thomas.
The Jackets scored again in the sixth as freshman catcher Zane Evans drove in junior second baseman Jacob Esch to give Tech a 6-2 lead, and the Jackets went on to win 6-3.
Pope pitched into the seventh inning before being removed. He finished the day having thrown 93 pitches over 6.2 innings, allowing one earned run on five hits and a walk while striking out six.
Leading the way were Tech’s top-of-the-order hitters, Wren and Hyde. The duo combined to go five-for-9 at the plate with two runs apiece; Wren had a walk and a stolen base, and Hyde had two RBIs.
“[Wren] had a great day setting the table for everybody, and [Hyde] had some big hits early and made some great plays at shortstop…All told, I thought all the freshmen did a great job,” said Head Coach Danny Hall.
Wren, who had three hits and fell a home run shy of the cycle, was satisfied with his debut.
“If I dreamed of how I would do in my first career game, it would probably not be as good as I did,” Wren said. “Being at the front of the order for the first game is more comfortable because you know that the coaches have confidence in you.”
The Jackets took home an easier victory the following afternoon. Tech received solid offensive contributions from the entire lineup, and a strong pitching performance by junior left-hander Jed Bradley paved the way for an 8-1 triumph.
Bradley was sharp from the very beginning. He recorded four strikeouts in the first two innings and did not allow a baserunner until the fourth. Tech’s lineup was quiet as well, but in the bottom half of the fourth freshman designated hitter Paul Kronenfeld drove in a run on an RBI single to center, and the Jackets led 1-0. The Jackets ended up scoring five runs in the sixth inning to take a 6-1 lead and went on to win 8-1.
Bradley starred on the mound; though he only pitched 5.2 innings, he was solid over that stretch, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out 10. At the plate, Wren and Hyde combined for three runs, three RBI and four walks. Esch was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI.
In the final game of the weekend set, the Golden Flashes were able to reverse their fortunes with a 6-1 victory.
After TV personality Bill Nye threw out the first pitch, sophomore right-hander Buck Farmer took the mound for Tech, and for five innings he did not allow a run. Farmer left the game after throwing 85 pitches in those five innings; he gave up four hits and three walks and struck out six.
Farmer left the game with a 1-0 lead, courtesy of a Skole RBI single, and the lefty Wood entered the game for Tech. After allowing a single, Wood retired the next two hitters, but an error by Hyde extended the inning.
The Golden Flashes capitalized, scoring four runs to take a 4-1 lead.
The Jackets were unable to accomplish much at the plate over the final few innings. Kent State added two more runs before the end of the game, and the final score was 6-1 as Tech suffered its first loss of the season.
After a day off, the Jackets traveled to Statesboro to face Georgia Southern in a two-game set on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Tuesday game was close throughout, and though Tech pulled ahead in the top of the ninth, Southern rallied in the bottom half for a walk-off 6-5 victory.
Neither starting pitcher lasted very deep into the game. Eagles lefty Jarret Leverett left after three innings, and Bard was forced out of the game after pitching 3.2 innings and allowing four runs.
Freshman right-hander Dusty Isaacs replaced Bard, and for 4.1 innings he silenced the Eagles’ bats, allowing one hit and striking out three. Tech added a run in the seventh to tie the game at 4-4.
In the top of the ninth, doubles by Thomas and Wren gave the Jackets a slim lead.
Junior Jacob Esch entered to close the bottom of the ninth, but Southern mounted a rally. With two on and two out, Jacob intentionally walked shortstop Eric Phillips to load the bases and set up an out at any base.
However, the senior proceeded to then walk the next two hitters, forcing in the tying and winning runs.
In the second game against Southern, the Jackets rebounded with a 7-4 victory on the strength of the lineup.
Tech jumped ahead in the third inning as freshman first baseman Daniel Palka hit Tech’s first home run of the season, a three-run shot that gave the Jackets a 3-0 lead. It was part of a breakout game for Palka, who went three-for-four with a double, the homer and four RBI. Wren went three-for-five and freshman left fielder DeAndre Smelter notched his first two career hits to contribute to the strong offensive effort.
Freshman right-hander Matthew Grimes made his first start and was sharp. Grimes allowed four runs over 5.1 innings, permitting just six baserunners and striking out three.