Georiga Tech baseball looking to finish season strong

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)

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)

It’s springtime, which means Six Flags Over Georgia is open. The main attraction at Six Flags should be the Georgia Tech baseball team, as they had one heck of a roller-coaster type season at the midpoint.

Tech started the season 9-2 until they hit conference play and now are 16-11 (4-8 ACC) entering the weekend series at Notre Dame (10-17, 4-8).

“I think we are kind of disappointed in where we are at, particularly in the league,” coach Danny Hall said about his team’s play at the midpoint. “But we still have a lot of baseball left. We’ve shown at times we can probably just about beat anybody. We have played some of the better teams in the conference already, but we still have plenty of them left to play. We have to get better in all areas.”

Hall understands what has been setting his team back, but he has a plan for how to fix the problems.

“The No. 1 thing is pitching, it has to get better,” Hall said. “We gotta throw more strikes. We have to play better defense, and I think those two things go hand and hand. The one stat that kind of sticks out is the number of people that we’ve walked. If we walk less guys, we’ll be making less errors. Cut the walks down and that’ll make our defense better.”

Senior closer Zac Ryan had some ideas as well to keep the pitching staff consistent.

“We just need good starts out of our starters,” Ryan said. “They need to come in and throw strikes and challenge hitters. Ultimately we just need to go out and challenge hitters and stay in the zone the whole time, and really make them prove themselves instead of giving them runs.”

The pitching was a question mark heading into the season, thanks to injuries. Tech lost starting pitcher Tristin English for the season, and Jonathan Hughes and Jonathan King have recently come back from their injuries. The bright spot to the injuries has been the experience the pitching staff has gained.

“We’ve pretty much have thrown everybody, so we’ve seen a little bit out of everyone,” pitching coach Jason Howell said. “There have been some flashes of good, like Jake Lee against Auburn on Wednesday (four scoreless innings and five strikeouts). Then there has been some growing pains and things that haven’t gone so good.”

“The key I think for those guys is to harness what all of them have had success with, and believe in that. (They) need to believe in themselves and trust in each other that that stuff can surface more so than not. Everybody’s experienced and game battled and tested and should be good to go.”

Hall is right about Tech’s brutal schedule this season. They have played three of the top 11 teams in the country so far, and still have to play No. 2 Louisville. However, Tech has shown flashes of how good they can be with wins over No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 North Carolina and No. 11 Auburn. Tech hasn’t been shut out in a conference weekend series, but they have gone 1-2 in every weekend series.

“We gotta pitch better on Sundays,” Hall said about what it will take to get at least two wins in a weekend series. “We haven’t been able to lock in on somebody on a Sunday start that can just manage the game for five innings. We’ve ran a lot of guys into that role, but we just gotta get that guy to settle the game for us to get us the win.”

Pitching may still provide some unresolved issues for Tech, but the thing the Yellow Jackets can still count on is their hitting. They rank fourth in the conference in batting average (.305), third in home runs (46) and first in doubles (72).

“I think we have very talented players that come in and have a very good work ethic and have bought into our offensive philosophy,” hitting coach Bryan Prince said about why the team is hitting so well. “It’s buying into what type of hitter you are, and then what type of hitter you want to be and putting in the time and the work with the drills and the cages. So, preparation has been key for us.”

Junior Kel Johnson believes the team has been hitting very well and that has contributed to the team’s success.

“We have some great hitters and some freshman that have really stepped up,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s been pulling their weight. It’s not like its coming from one or two guys, it’s up and down the lineup everybody’s contributing. That’s what it takes to have a strong offense at this level.”

The Jackets will look to keep their offense steady and get their pitching back in the groove at Notre Dame.