The No. 8 ranked Tech baseball team hit the road this past week, beginning a four-game road trip around the Southeast and the state. The Jackets travelled to Durham, N.C. to face the Duke Blue Devils on April 1-3 before returning to Ga. to take on Kennesaw State at Kennesaw’s stadium. Despite winning 16 of their previous 17 games, Tech couldn’t shake off the loss to unranked Mercer in their previous game and split the games on the road trip, losing one game to the Blue Devils and then falling to the Owls.
Talented Tech junior Mark Pope was on the bump, hoping to keep his 6-0 season record perfect against a struggling Duke team, who are just 15-13 and 2-8 in ACC play. After breezing through the first two innings without incident, Pope struggled, giving up two runs. From there on, Pope was sharp, allowing no runs, while striking out seven and walking only three. The win put Pope at 7-0 on the year, giving him the best record in the ACC and tying him for most wins in the nation.
On the offensive side, Tech had a solid day at the plate, scoring runs in the fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth to cap off a nine-run, 15-hit day. The seventh and eighth spots in the order, freshman Mott Hyde and sophomore Sam Dove, respectively, had a great day at the dish. They both combined for four hits, four RBIs and two runs for the team. At the top of the order, freshman speedster Kyle Wren continued to impress in his first season, chalking up two hits, two runs, an RBI and a walk to cap a productive day at bat. Tech also stole two bases, courtesy of sophomore Brandon Thomas and freshman Daniel Palka. These were their 11th and second stolen bases for the year, respectively. In addition to a dominant pitching performance and an impressive day at the plate, the Jackets also played near perfect defense, with the only error coming from junior Jacob Esch, allowing an inconsequential run.
In the second game of the series, Head Coach Danny Hall turned to junior Jed Bradley to keep the team’s road trip perfect. Bradley kept Tech in the game, throwing six solid innings of work, and giving up three runs—two earned—on seven hits. Bradley also put up eight strikeouts against just two walks and gave Tech a solid chance to win. In the seventh, though, Hall elected to relieve Bradley and put in sophomore Luke Bard, who was 1-0 on the season. After one out singles from Duke freshman Angelo LaBruna and Mike Rosenfeld, Duke had runners on first and third, threatening to take the lead in a close 3-3 game. Freshman Catcher Zane Evans couldn’t handle one of Bard’s pitches after Rosenfeld’s single, resulting in a passed ball. This allowed LaBruna to score from third in what would turn out to be the game winning run. The Blue Devils scattered 10 hits against Bradley and Bard, the most in Tech’s past six games.
Despite having the Jackets pitching keep the team in the game, the Tech bats went cold at the plate, scoring just three runs against the Blue Devils. One contributing factor to the Jackets’ stale performance at the plate was the team’s 12 combined strikeouts. Four players had two strikeouts a piece, with junior Jake Davies being the only Tech batter without one. Beyond the high strikeout total, Tech only drew three walks and left nine men on base. The Jackets would look to win the series before heading back to Georgia with the final game, which came on April 3rd.
The third game of Tech’s series against the Blue Devils turned out to be the Jackets’ most impressive. Tech would look to big 6’3” 221 pound sophomore Buck Farmer to close out the series against the Blue Devils and keep Tech in the top 10 nationally. Farmer cruised through the first three innings before giving up two runs in the fourth and fifth. Only two of the three runs he gave up were earned.
Freshman right hander Brad Markey came into the game in relief of Farmer but got shelled, giving up two earned runs on three hits in the sixth, while only recording one out. Hall then turned to fellow freshman right hander Dusty Isaacs to get Tech out of the jam.
Isaacs pitched exceptionally well, allowing only one hit and no walks to go along with three strikeouts in two and two thirds innings. Freshman lefty Devin Stanton and senior right hander Kevin Jacob cleaned up the final inning, with Stanton giving up the only hit of the ninth.
With a good game being thrown by the Tech pitching staff and bullpen, Tech’s batters had the chance to come alive after a disappointing win the day before. Tech opened up the game early, scoring two runs in the first and chasing Duke freshman starter Mark Lumpa from the game after he recorded just two outs. Tech’s two runs came on two triples, courtesy of Esch and junior Jake Davies and an RBI single by Matt Skole.
The Blue Devils then turned to freshman Drew Van Orden to stop the bad pitching streak. Van Orden recorded one clean inning in the second, but then ran into trouble against the heart of Tech’s lineup in the third.
When the dust had settled, the Jackets had scored five runs on five hits. The inning started quickly, with Esch knocking a double in the seemingly cavernous Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Thomas finished off the scoring for Duke, plating two runs on a single to right. In the fifth, Esch continued to tear up Duke’s pitching, this time roping a two RBI double to right field that scored Kyle Wren and Mott Hyde. Skole then shot one back up the middle to score Esch to give Tech its tenth run of the day, leaving the score at 10-2.
Duke would put up a fight, scoring one run in the fifth to go along with another pair in the sixth, but never truly challenged the Jackets’ lead. Tech tacked on an additional run in the ninth to put the game away, winning 11-5. Tech cut down on the strikeouts in the third game, recording just nine after an abysmal 12 in the previous game. The Jackets also drew four walks, another improvement over the previous game. The only blemish on the day was the two errors by Tech fielders, which resulted in an unearned run to be scored under starter Farmer. Despite this, Tech had gotten out of Durham with a 2-1 series victory looking toward the midweek April 5 away game against Kennesaw State.
After resting Monday, Tech was back on the field Tuesday against the Kennesaw State Owls for a single midweek game. Kennesaw turned out to be a tough opponent and the two teams made for an exciting game in Cobb County. Tech put freshman Matt Grimes on the hill to face off against the Owls. Despite not giving up a run through the first three innings, Grimes issued six free passes on the day, two coming in the fourth where he gave up three runs before being lifted by Hall and replaced by senior Taylor Wood.
Grimes stat line showed three runs with one earned, six walks and five strikeouts over four and a third innings. The six walks came as no surprise as Grimes struggled with control for most of the day. His pitch count was elevated, even through just four and a third innings in which he threw 89 pitches, with only 47 of those going for strikes. Despite a poor fourth inning, Tech drew the game to a 3-3 tie in the fifth, scoring two runs off of Kennesaw starter freshman Travis Dean. Tech then plated three more runs in the sixth to take a comfortable 6-3 lead with only nine outs between Tech and a very heavily expected win.
Despite the Jackets’ confidence, Kennesaw continued to hang around, allowing the Owls to steal an easy run in the seventh due to a throwing error by Skole and a bases loaded walk by Wood to bring the game to 6-4. The game went smoothly through the eighth and top of the ninth, with Tech going scoreless. The bottom of the ninth came to hurt the Jackets, and Kennesaw finally made Tech pay for all of their mistakes throughout the day. Bard loaded the bases after hitting a batter, walking another and allowing a single as he struggled with his command for most of his inning and two thirds of work. Bard then walked in two runs before being pulled in favor of starting shortstop Esch.
The change of pitcher didn’t matter to Kennesaw State’s Ray Anderson, as he dropped a single into shallow right-center over a reaching Mott Hyde. The win marks only the Owl’s second win over a to- 10 team in school history, in front of a record crowd of 1242 fans at Kennesaw’s Stillwell Stadium. The Jackets allowed Kennesaw to hang around with sloppy play; the squad walked 11 batters, hit two others and committed two errors. The Jackets also left 10 men on base which all amounted to four unearned runs on the night despite giving up just six singles the entire game.
Coming off of the loss Tech will have to rebound against tough competition as the No. 1 ranked Virginia Cavaliers come to Atlanta for a three game weekend series. The series will determine who will get the top spot in the ACC heading into May’s ACC tournament.
In addition to the tough weekend series against Virginia, Tech will then face off against rival Georgia on April 12 in Atlanta to cap off a difficult opening to April.