Big crowds expected for Georgia Tech-UGA weekend baseball series

Georgia Tech first baseman Andrew Jenkins in action against Wright State in the Yellow Jackets' 9-8 walk-off win in the season opener Feb. 18, 2022 at Russ Chandler Stadium. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

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Georgia Tech first baseman Andrew Jenkins in action against Wright State in the Yellow Jackets' 9-8 walk-off win in the season opener Feb. 18, 2022 at Russ Chandler Stadium. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

The statistics that Georgia Tech has manufactured through nine games certainly are gaudy. The Yellow Jackets are ranked in the top 20 nationally in batting average, home runs per game, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and runs per game.

The Tech lineup, though, is bracing for a far sterner examination than anything it has received thus far this season, as the No. 19 Jackets (as ranked by Baseball America) will engage No. 14 Georgia in a three-game series beginning Friday at Russ Chandler Stadium. The series will continue with a Saturday game at Georgia’s Foley Field followed with a Sunday neutral-site game at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, the teams’ annual fundraiser for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The two on-campus games are sold out.

“I think they’re very good and talented and a lot of certainly high-draft-pick pitchers that we’ll see and a definite veteran team on the field,” Tech coach Danny Hall told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I just think that we realize that we’ve got to play good baseball and whatever shortcomings we have, they’ll have a chance to get exposed.”

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Tech will face Bulldogs ace Jonathan Cannon on Friday and Liam Sullivan on Saturday. Cannon, who has not been scored upon in 14-1/3 innings nor allowed a walk, was rated a top-100 draft prospect last year before he decided to return to Georgia. Sullivan limited opponents to a .209 batting average last season. He has made one start this season and had a 5.14 ERA.

In playing Wright State, Georgia Southern, Presbyterian, Gardner-Webb and Georgia State to assemble an 8-1 record, the Jackets almost certainly have not faced the quality of team that they’ll face three successive days this weekend. After the series with Georgia, Tech will begin ACC competition next weekend against Virginia Tech.

Tech will send Chance Huff out Friday followed by Zach Maxwell. Huff has a 2.45 ERA after two starts with a .132 opponent batting average and Maxwell’s ERA is 3.00 (opponent batting average: .161). Neither Tech nor Georgia has named a Sunday starter.

“I would say a guy like Jonathan Cannon, their Friday guy, has more experience than our guys have, but our guys have been in some tough games and tough spots,” Hall said. “Now it’s just they’re starting. So far, they’ve done well and now we’ll see how they do against not only a good team, but it’s your in-state rival.”

A year ago, Tech won the two games between the teams to take the series. Two years ago, in the first three-game weekend regular-season series between Tech and Georgia in 61 years, the Bulldogs swept the Jackets, winning in Athens, at Tech and at Coolray Field. The format was a change from the long-held arrangement in which the two rivals played midweek games on their respective campuses with the third game played as a benefit for CHOA first at Turner Field before moving to Truist Park in 2017.

Hall and UGA coach Scott Stricklin decided to make the switch to allow both teams to throw their best pitchers at each other, as is customary in a weekend series.

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However, because the series needed to be played before both teams began conference play, that also has meant that Truist Park has not been an option and may continue not to be one.

Hall said that “the message we get is (the Braves) don’t either feel like they can get the field ready to go this early or they don’t want to get the field ready to go this early. That’s just the message. That’s fine.

“If you’re asking me where I’d rather play, I would rather that this game be at Truist Park because I think we’d have more people and it’s going to raise more money for the charity, and I think our players and fans would love to watch Georgia and Georgia Tech play in that park.”

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