With Friday night's opener rapidly approaching, it's high time we take a first look at Georgia Tech.
GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS
Record: 39-19, 16-14 ACC
NCAA Tournament Appearance: 24th
All-Time NCAA Tournament Record: 54-57
Head Coach: Danny Hall (15th season, 650-292 overall, 35-25 NCAA Tournament)
No team in the Regional utilizes the long ball like Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have gone deep 90 times so far this season, and start four players who have hit at least 12 home runs. Tech has been especially drunk with power recently, belting 45 homers over its last 22 games, including ten during a three-game series with Regional host Coastal Carolina. They've also hit 14 grand slams, four of which have come off the bat of Brad Feltes, good for best in the country.
But it isn't all about home runs. The Yellow Jackets' team batting average of .311 is second best in the Regional, just a hair below Louisville's .313. The junior quartet of Luke Murton, Charlie Blackmon, Chris House and Jason Haniger have found a healthy balance between hitting for power and average, batting a consistent .336 while hitting 29 home runs on the season.
Like Louisville, the Ramblin' Wreck relies heavily on freshmen. Starters Derek Dietrich and Jeff Rowland are among the team leaders in average and home runs, while reserves Thomas Nichols, Chase Burnette, and Cole Leonida have also made healthy contributions in their first collegiate season. Overall, the class has combined for 138 RBI, better than any of their elder counterparts.
Tech generally starts five left-handed hitters, which could be good news for likely Friday night starter Justin Marks.
Probable Starting Lineup
1. Charlie Blackmon (RF), .391
2. Jeff Rowland (CF), .345
3. Luke Murton (DH), .349
4. Derek Dietrich (SS), .333
5. Tony Plagman (1B), .320
6. Brad Feltes (3B), .290
7. Chris House (LF), .252
8. Patrick Long (2B), .274
9. Jason Haniger (C), .317
Starting Lineup Notes
--Catcher Jason Haniger injured his right hand during Saturday's loss to Clemson, but has practiced all week and is expected to start tomorrow night.
--Third baseman Brad Feltes and first baseman Tony Plagman have been flip-flopping in the batting order, so either one might get the nod in the five hole on Friday.
--Speedy sophomore Jay Dantzler is another starting option in center field. If he doesn't get the start, then expect to see him in the game later as either a defensive replacement or pinch runner.
--In 58 games this season, Danny Hall has used 46 different starting lineups.
After two uneventful seasons as a pitcher, Charlie Blackmon decided to spend last summer trying to make a name for himself as a position player. After performing admirably, Hall allowed the left-hander to continue taking some hacks during the fall and winter months.
Now, as the team's everyday starting right fielder, Blackmon leads the Yellow Jackets in average (.391), hits (91), runs (66) and stolen bases (23). He enters this weekend on an especially impressive tear, having hit .472 over the last eight games, and .459 with nine extra-base hits over Tech's last 22 contests.
While Blackmon is the team's statistical stud, the most talented player on the squad is likely freshman shortstop Derek Dietrich, a third round selection in last year's MLB Draft. He's lived up to the hype that surrounded his arrival on campus, leading all ACC freshmen in home runs (14), RBI (66), total bases (135) and slugging percentage (.603). One of just two players to start all 58 games, Dietrich has made 153 assists to just 15 errors, good for a .941 fielding percentage.
What the Tech staff lacks in an undisputed ace, it more than makes up for in depth...and height.
The towering Yellow Jacket starting rotation has combined for a 31-12 record, a 4.23 ERA, and an opponents batting average of .267.
Junior David Duncan (7-3, 4.47 ERA) is the team's No. 1 starter, and a second team All-ACC performer. The towering 6-8 left-hander has tremendous command of his stuff, striking out 73 and walking just 31 over 90 2/3 innings of work. He was roughed up by Miami in the ACC Tournament to the tune of ten earned runs over 5 2/3 innings, but had allowed just one earned run in three of his four starts before that.
Junior right-hander Eddie Burns (7-4, 5.40 ERA) and sophomore righty Zach Von Tersch (7-5, 4.14 ERA) have spent the season as the No. 2 and No. 3 starters, but it's been mid-week starter Deck McGuire (8-1, 3.41 ERA) who has stolen the collective heart of the Yellow Jacket faithful. In three starts against rival Georgia, McGuire has picked up a pair of victories and struck out 22 Bulldogs. If the two meet for a fourth time this weekend, it will be interesting to see who Hall hands the ball to.
The ups and downs of the Georgia Tech bullpen are personified by closer Chris Hicks, who has made 26 appearances and compiled a laudable eight saves, but who also has an 0-3 record and an ERA of 7.11.
Hall's most reliable relievers have been Brad Rulon (3-1, 4.60 ERA) and Andrew Robinson (3-2, 4.57 ERA), who have combined for 42 scoreless appearances. Rulon ranks fourth in school history in appearances (114), and seventh in strikeouts per nine innings (9.98).
More on the Jackets before the game tomorrow.