Time running out on season for baseball Jackets

The 20th season of coach Danny Hall’s career at Georgia Tech has been like the first 19 in this respect. It hasn’t gone as he expected.

“There’s never a season or a team that you just think it’s going to be one way, and it’s that way the whole time,” Hall said. “It’s almost like working a puzzle. You’re trying to find the pieces that are going to make the puzzle work.”

With seven games remaining before the end of the regular season, it would be a stretch to say that Hall has only the puzzle’s border configured, but he and his staff aren’t fitting the final pieces together, either. The Yellow Jackets, who won 21 of their first 26 games, but only nine of their past 23, will welcome to Russ Chandler Stadium a team eminently capable of further frustrating their efforts. North Carolina, ranked No. 1 or 2 in the major baseball polls, will begin a three-game series against the Jackets at 7 p.m. Friday.

The Tar Heels, owners of a staggering 44-4 record (19-3 in the ACC), merely lead the country in scoring (8.8 runs per game) and rank third in ERA (2.32). Tech, by comparison is 30-19 (12-12 in the ACC) and ranks 24th in scoring (6.9 runs per game) and 161st in ERA (4.34).

“The biggest thing that I think we need is, we’re going to need some timely hitting,” Hall said. “Runs may be hard to come by, so when you get guys on, you’ve got to have guys get hits and knock them in.”

Against a stout closing schedule, the Jackets are faltering. On April 12-14, Tech may have been at its best in taking a series from Virginia, now ranked No. 8 in the USA Today coaches poll. After an easy win over Savannah State on April 16, Tech is 3-9 since, getting swept by N.C. State (No. 9) and losing series to Clemson (No. 22) and Coastal Carolina.

The Jackets have intermittently played up to their potential. In Tech’s two-game series at Ohio State on Tuesday and Wednesday, starting pitchers Jonathan King and Josh Heddinger combined for 12 innings with one earned run as the Jackets split with the Buckeyes.

On April 27, behind catcher Zane Evans’ six-hit game, the Jackets pounded Clemson 14-9 to end a six-game losing streak, scoring 10 runs in the fifth inning. However, that was as many runs as they scored in the other 28 innings in the series, which they lost 2-1. The game before, Tech lost 4-3 in 11 innings in a game in which the Jackets led 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, walked 15 and committed five errors.

The alternating betrayal of pitching, hitting and defense has been a distressing constant.

“I told the team after we played last night (a 3-2 loss to Ohio State on Wednesday) that we haven’t put it all together, and we’re hoping that happens,” Hall said, “but we’re also running out of time, so to speak.”

Following the North Carolina series, Tech finishes with a home game Tuesday against Georgia, which clobbered the Jackets 17-0 at Turner Field on April 23, and a three-game series at Miami, which is a game behind the Jackets in the ACC standings.

“The next seven games, in my mind, are pretty critical, and we need to do well,” Hall said. “I’m pretty confident that I know we’re going to play hard and compete, and we’ll see what happens.”

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