Georgia Tech outfielder Kel Johnson in action against Auburn in 2016. He is a junior in the 2017 season. (Photo by Georgia Tech Athletics/Danny Karnik)
Photo: Danny Karnik
Photo: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech baseball: 3 things to know

Georgia Tech baseball opens its season Friday at home against BYU in the third annual Atlanta Challenge. The Yellow Jackets to Florida lost in the NCAA Gainesville Regional last year to end the season with a 38-25 record. Tech will try to make it past the regional round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in more than a decade.

Here are three important issues heading into the season:

Health of Kel Johnson: If the Yellow Jackets want to go deep in the NCAA tournament, there are going to need a healthy Kel Johnson to get them there. After being limited in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, Johnson believes that he is close to 100 percent like he was freshman year.

“It’s close to 100 percent like freshman year, huge strides this offseason in rehab and getting that range of motion back,” Johnson said. “Last year it was playable the first half of the year, but the second half of the year it began to bother me. But now I’m getting that range of motion back and its pain free. I’m excited to be out there running and bouncing around like I always have in the past.”

Johnson has received numerous preseason accolades, such as being named to the USA Baseball Gold Spikes Award preseason watch list, NCBWA preseason All-America second team, the Collegiate Baseball preseason All-America third team and the Perfect Game preseason All-ACC team.

Who will replace Connor Justus? Justus was the only Jacket to start all 63 games last season, and losing him to the draft leaves a big hole at shortstop. The top candidate was more than likely coach Danny Hall’s son Carter Hall, but he is dealing with a stress fracture and will not play this weekend. Instead, freshman Austin Wilhite will start.

“The guy that has really stepped up and played really well is Austin Wilhite, another freshman,” Danny Hall said. “Austin will be starting at shortstop. He’s impressed everybody just the way he’s played not only in the fall, but this preseason in some of these scrimmages.”

Team chemistry different than in years past: Hall was asked about any changes he’s seen in the team over the offseason. The main thing he said he noticed is how close the team has been.

“They seem to be really close and their doing a lot of things together, not only on the field but off the field,” Hall said. “I think when you have a team that bonds a lot, they have a tendency to play harder and play together. That’s the one thing I’ve seen from this team. They seem to care a lot about each other, and I think that goes a long way.”

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