Georgia Tech finding new strength in middle-infield pairing

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Jadyn Jackson waited patiently for his chance. Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall noticed how his infielder served his backup role.

“Jadyn Jackson’s one of the best teammates that we’ve had, and it’s been that way for three-plus years,” Hall said Sunday. “If he’s not playing, he’s rooting for everybody. He loves Georgia Tech, he represents Georgia Tech the right way, he’s always going to work hard at practice.”

Even when middle infielder Chandler Simpson transferred in from UAB – someone who was clearly in Jackson’s way to get playing time – Jackson helped the St. Pius High grad get acclimated.

“That’s always been my game – just being a good teammate, no matter what my circumstance is,” said Jackson, a Lanier High grad.

Jackson spoke after he had contributed to the Yellow Jackets’ 10-0 win over then-No. 13 Florida State on Sunday at Russ Chandler Stadium. His circumstances were much better than they’d been previously – he had just started his sixth game in a row and had hit safely in each.

For the Jackets, it may be part of the answer that Hall seeks as his team tries to collect some wins after dropping three consecutive ACC series. Tech’s win over the Seminoles on Sunday gave the Jackets the series victory, improved their record to 21-12 and provided a lift as they head into a rigorous week that starts with a Tuesday home game against Georgia State (the Panthers are 22-10 after a weekend sweep of Coastal Carolina) and then a road series at North Carolina this weekend.

“That's always been my game – just being a good teammate, no matter what my circumstance is."

- Georgia Tech's Jadyn Jackson

With Simpson out with an injury, Hall gave Jackson a shot at shortstop against Virginia last week as he looked for a solution. While Tech lost the series, Jackson performed well enough to keep the spot. Last week, Simpson returned, this time taking second base after having previously played shortstop.

In three games last week (Jackson missed the Saturday game against FSU to attend his grandfather’s funeral), the pair held down the middle of the infield and constantly reached base as the Jackets won all three games.

When Simpson was out for 13 games, “it didn’t matter who we tried to play, we couldn’t quite get that mesh,” Hall said. “Now I think we have a really good mesh in the middle.”

The two have also been connected in the batting order. Jackson has been the No. 9 hitter since the start of the Virginia series, and Simpson has been Tech’s leadoff man. Jackson is 9-for-23 (a mere .391) in his six-game run as Tech’s starting shortstop.

“That’s just my goal being in the 9 hole – just find a way on (base), just get back to the top of the lineup,” Jackson said, “because I know those guys, they do the most damage at the top.”

In the leadoff spot, Simpson has been nothing shy of sensational. He has a .494 batting average with a .576 on-base percentage, with 12 stolen bases and 34 runs in 20 games. While his 13-game absence prevents him from qualifying for national and conference statistical rankings, his batting average, on-base percentage and run total would have been at or near the top of Division I when most players were at or close to the 20-game mark.

In the fourth inning of Sunday’s game, Kevin Parada hit a line drive to right that right fielder Jaime Ferrer dove for but couldn’t catch, the ball trickling a few feet away. Running on contact with two out, Simpson scored easily from first base on the play.

“He’s a total game-changer,” Hall said of Simpson.

“He’s basically on my butt 24/7,” Jackson said of being on the basepaths ahead of Simpson. “I can literally get the best jump of my life and he’s still three steps behind me. That’s how fast he is.”

Hall, again: “I would just say it like this: We’re 5-1 in the league when Simpson plays, and we’re not good when he hasn’t played.”

As Tech tries to build on an improved pitching performance against Florida State – seven earned runs over the three games after giving up 34 the previous week to Virginia – Hall is counting on the defensive stability of Simpson and Jackson.

Hall said he is seeing good things “most of the time” from his staff, and that “I think our defense will go a long way to help the pitching. Because, quite honestly, it wasn’t just pitching (that was a problem). We were making mistakes defensively. It was giving teams a chance to score a lot of runs against us.”

Jackson, who had started a total of four games and had 33 at-bats in his first two seasons, wondered if his chance would ever come.

“(Hall) would always say, ‘J-Jack, stay ready. J-Jack, stay ready,’” Jackson said. “I got my time and I did what I had to do, and I’ve got to keep going now.”