FSU a challenge for Jackets’ clout

Georgia Tech’s surprise run to last year’s ACC baseball championship began with an upset of Florida State. In some ways, the Yellow Jackets haven’t stopped yet.

“I think there was a lot of carryover,” pitcher and staff ace Buck Farmer said. “I think people saw what we could be, and I think that’s what they brought here this year and want to show people.”

Fueled by perhaps the top offense in the country to this point, the Yellow Jackets have risen to No. 11 in the USA Today coaches poll. This weekend, they play the same Seminoles, ranked No. 5, in a three-game series that will provide by far the best competition they’ve faced this season.

“It’s going to make you play your best, and you’re going to find out a lot about your team,” coach Danny Hall said.

The series starts in Tallahassee, Fla., with a Friday doubleheader beginning at 3 p.m. With heavy rains forecast for Saturday, the second game was moved to Friday. The series concludes Sunday with a 1 p.m. game. The games will be carried online on ESPN3.

Tech (17-3 overall, 5-1 ACC) returns all but one starting position player from last year’s team and seven of the nine pitchers who took the mound in the ACC tournament. Hall in part attributed his team’s offensive output — through last weekend, the Jackets led the country in batting average (.355), runs per game (10.0) and slugging percentage (.526) — to the Jackets’ four-game sprint to the ACC title after making the eight-team field in the final game of the regular season.

“I think that the older guys in particular, to go through the ACC tournament and win that tournament against four really good teams, I think that gave them a lot of confidence,” he said.

A few of those older guys are putting up startling numbers. Going into this week’s games, center fielder Brandon Thomas ranked second in the country in batting average at .479 and fourth in on-base percentage (.557). Catcher Zane Evans ranked second in RBIs (30), fourth in home runs (eight) and 13th in slugging percentage (.789). Right fielder Daniel Palka ranked 10th in batting average (.449), sixth in on-base percentage (.552) and seventh in RBIs (28).

“Everyone’s gotten better, top to bottom,” Thomas said.

The Seminoles (20-1, 5-1) will be stern, though, with a pitching staff that ranked fifth in the country in ERA (1.85) after last weekend. Farmer will be opposed Friday by Marist grad Brandon Leibrandt, the son of former Braves pitcher Charlie Leibrandt.

To this point, the Jackets have done a lot of damage against fairly weak pitching. Of the eight teams that Tech has faced, six ranked 200th or worse in ERA (out of 296 teams) after last weekend. The Jackets did pummel the best pitching staff they’ve faced, Virginia Tech, for 27 runs in a three-game series.

The three games hardly will be a final verdict, but will be a far better gauge on the Tech’s offensive might.

“I have said there’s going to be times when we’re going to run into a good pitcher and have to win in other ways, but I do think that we will make teams have to pitch really well to beat us because I just think we have a lot of guys capable of hitting the baseball,” Hall said.