Georgia Tech baseball preview capsule

Georgia Tech opens the baseball season with a three-game home series against Purdue that starts Friday at Russ Chandler Stadium. The Yellow Jackets were 32-23 last season and 13-17 in the ACC.

Here are three things to know about Georgia Tech’s season:

Offense needs improvement. An ankle injury to outfielder Kel Johnson, a freshman All-American last season, probably cost the Yellow Jackets a spot in the NCAA tournament last season, which is evidence of his singular ability, but also how dependent the team was upon him. Last season, Tech ranked sixth in the ACC in batting average (.270), but 11th in on-base percentage (.351).

Coach Danny Hall wants to see the Jackets cut down on their strikeouts and have his righty-heavy lineup hit to right field more often.

“That’s probably been the biggest thing we’ve tried to just get better at,” Hall said.

Johnson was hitting .379 at the time of his injury and finished at .298.

“He has swung well and seems to be moving around like the ol’ Kel Johnson,” Hall said.

Lots of arms back. Returning pitchers account for about 89 percent of innings thrown last season, led by two-way player Brandon Gold, who was 7-3 with a 3.26 ERA. Closer Zac Ryan, who was 9-1 with seven saves and had an opponents’ batting average of .250, looks like another dependable option. Last season, Tech ranked 12th in the ACC with a 4.83 ERA.

Hall will start with a weekend rotation of Gold, Jonathan King and freshman Jonathan Hughes. Cole Pitts, a senior in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, and two freshmen, Keyton Gibson and Burton Dulaney, are vying for the mid-week starting job.

Another freshman, Tristin English, may be available later this season to pitch, but can play first base and hit well in the preseason, Hall said.

“It’s good to have them behind our backs,” Gold said of the freshmen. “If you aren’t performing well, you know there’s a guy behind you that can step up and take your spot.”

Goals remain the same. The Jackets were picked to finish fourth in the Coastal Division behind Miami, defending national champion Virginia and North Carolina. (Louisville was tabbed the favorite to win the league.) In the USA Today coaches preseason poll, Miami is No. 6, Virginia is No. 7 and North Carolina is tied for 20th. Tech is among teams also receiving votes in the poll.

Hall said the team goal is to win the ACC and be a host for an NCAA regional and super regional. Tech hasn’t been a regional host since 2011.

Last year’s finish has stuck in the team’s memory. The Jackets, trying to get off the NCAA tournament bubble, were swept by Miami in the final regular-season series, losing the three games by a combined 42-5.

“The end of the year last year left a sour taste in all of our mouths,” King said. “We played nowhere near as well as we could have or should have at the end of the year.”

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