Baseball looks forward after opening sweep

Photo by Casey Miles

The days are getting longer, ambitious flowers have begun to bloom, and Tech baseball is in season. Hopes for a memorable season were bolstered by a victorious opening weekend. Tech kicked the season off with a three game sweep at the Atlanta Challenge last weekend that landed them in a four way tie for the number one slot in the ACC.

The Jackets have improved on the field over their last two seasons participating in the Atlanta Challenge. Their three wins over the weekend carried Tech to its 22nd consecutive out of conference weekend tournament victories.

Holding their ground in the first couple of innings in all their games last weekend gave the team the edge they needed for solid wins. Tech scored first in every game throughout the weekend and did not let in any runs for at least the first five innings during all three games.

If they continue to start out strong through every game this year, there is a significant possibility that the Jackets could remain in the first slot in ACC rankings as the season progresses and the games tighten.

The Jackets will likely find themselves in closest competition with Duke and North Carolina. The three teams, together, frequently occupy the middle portion of the ACC rankings. This means that any edge the jackets may have over their opponents could make a large difference to the outcome of the standings.

The three teams have met each other on the field frequently and consistently traded victories and losses over the last four years. Familiarity with their opponents is no reason for Tech to lull itself into a false sense of security; the nature of collegiate athletics means that teams cycle through entirely every four or five years. Just as this year’s Jackets team is different from those of years past, so are its opponents.

However, Tech’s biggest chance of edging out the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels may be to focus on defeating the ACC teams that frequently occupy the top portion of the rankings.

Miami, Tech’s first conference opponent, has ranked first in the Coastal Division of the ACC for the last three years. The Hurricanes will likely be the most difficult competition of the season as Miami has proven to consistently be a challenge for the jackets. To exacerbate things, Tech will meet the Hurricanes away from home, after playing a number of more easily managed, out of conference match-ups to boost their confidence entering the stretch.

However, after three years of Miami winning more than half of their games against Tech, the jackets are not likely to underestimate the Hurricanes. Miami has been top dog in the Coastal Division for a few years now and the Jackets will look to knock the Hurricanes off their pedestal the first chance they get. This season Tech may find themselves flashing back to 2014 and itching to defeat the Hurricanes in the ACC Championships for the third time in five years.

Not a regular conference match up for the Jackets, Louisville will be another team that might give the Jackets grief on the field.

The Cardinals have only made it onto Tech’s slate one time in the last five years and they won all three games of the match up. Louisville has earned a reputation as a top ACC competitor with consistent high rankings in the competitive Atlantic Division.

The Jackets will compete against the Cardinals midseason, on home turf, which should give them enough time to work out any growing pains on the field.

Most of the growing pains for Tech baseball will occur on the mound. With three pitchers lost to graduation and one to injury, Tech’s pitching lineup is in serious need of reinforcements.

It’s not all bad news though, pitching coach Jason Howell rotated in a number of pitchers over the weekend that proved to be instrumental to the start off strong strategy that earned the jackets three victories.

Freshman Xzavion Curry led the jackets through five scoreless innings against BYU at their first game of the Atlanta Challenge. With four solid innings of no runs against Marshall, redshirt freshman Jonathan Hughes proved to be an asset to Coach Howell’s pitching lineup, at least in the early goings of the campaign.

Confirming opinions of his talent on the mound, senior Ben Parr pitched a perfect fifth inning against Marshall. Eleven runs up, Coach Howell gave a number of new pitchers the chance to hone their skill on the mound during the final innings against Marshall. In the third and final game of the weekend, sophomore Keyton Gibson pitched for five innings against Western Michigan and only let in a single run on
two hits.

It seems that any worries about growing pains in Tech’s pitching lineup were misguided. However, Tech’s ability to replicate its success against conference match-ups is yet to be proven.

Kel Johnson, Trevor Craport, Wade Bailey and a long list of talented freshmen used this weekend to prove how easily the team has slid back into its pattern of growing success at the plate.

It is one thing to win convincingly against weak non-conference opponents, and another altogether to do so when the games matter the most, during the conference schedule. Tech’s unproven pitching staff lacks consistency, let alone a proven ace, and that flaw could be exposed against quality matchups. But the early returns are strong.

This year is Head Coach Danny Hall’s 22nd at the helm of Jackets baseball, and like each before, it brings its own set of challenges. They are well-equipped to handle that adversity.