Georgia Tech takes baseball series opener from Georgia

Georgia Tech second baseman Tim Borders turns a double play in the seventh inning of the Yellow Jackets' 11-7 win over Georgia March 4, 2022 at Russ Chandler Stadium. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

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Georgia Tech second baseman Tim Borders turns a double play in the seventh inning of the Yellow Jackets' 11-7 win over Georgia March 4, 2022 at Russ Chandler Stadium. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

A year ago, Chance Huff was a Georgia Tech reliever with a 9.99 ERA.

On Friday night, his updated and improved version was a central entity in the opening game of the annual Tech-Georgia series, an 11-7 win for the Yellow Jackets at Tech’s Russ Chandler Stadium.

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Huff, who has ascended to the top of the Tech pitching staff since the end of last season, kept the Bulldogs off balance in a seven-inning gem, advancing the game far enough to sufficiently shrink Georgia’s window for a rally.

“I thought Chance Huff was outstanding (Friday),” Tech coach Danny Hall said. “I thought he really did a great job of just settling the game early.”

On an exceedingly pleasant night in Midtown in front of a sold-out crowd (3,394) made up of a mix of Jackets and Bulldogs fans, Tech captured the first segment of the three-game series, which continues on Saturday in Athens and will finish Sunday with the annual fundraiser for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville.

Georgia (8-1) entered the game ranked 14th by Baseball America, Tech (9-1) 19th. A raucous crowd celebrated the renewal of this meeting of archrivals, this time with a little more at stake with both teams carrying top-25 rankings.

Huff allowed one run in seven innings, his only miscue a solo blast in the top of the fourth by UGA designated hitter Corey Collins. He gave up only three hits, struck out six and walked two, both in his final inning. The Bulldogs rarely got solid contact against Huff’s mix of fastballs, sliders, curves and changeups.

Huff, a transfer from Vanderbilt, has elevated his performance by harnessing his control. A year ago, Huff struck out nearly a batter per inning (22 in 24 1/3 innings), but also walked 19, threw nine wild pitches and had an opponent batting average of .320, hence the 9.99 ERA. In the fall, Huff focused on getting ahead in the count, an approach that has evidently proven effective.

In 18 innings this season, Huff has walked four batters and he lowered his ERA for the season to 2.00.

“I think it’s just mindset and confidence,” Huff said. “Just kind of getting to throw to these (Tech) guys over the fall and preseason and, obviously, it’s one of the best offenses in the nation, and still being able to hold four or five innings in the fall and preseason – just kind of seeing that gave me a lot of confidence to be able to handle anybody in the season.”

When Huff left the game after seven innings, the Jackets led 6-1 and then added two more in the bottom of the seventh, runs that proved crucial as the Bulldogs answered with six in the top of the eighth to shrink Tech’s lead to 8-7 going into the bottom of the eighth.

The Jackets pushed back with three runs in the bottom of the eighth for the final 11-7 score.

“We did fight back,” UGA manager Scott Stricklin said. “We made them use the bullpen. Once it was 6-1, that was the goal, to make sure that we got into the bullpen a little bit to make (Saturday), to make Sunday more challenging (for Tech), and I think we did that. Next thing you know, it’s 8-7 but we just didn’t have enough time. We didn’t play well enough to win.”

Stricklin rued misplays in the field that left the Bulldogs chasing from the start.

The Jackets opened up scoring in the bottom of the first after leadoff hitter Chandler Simpson advanced from second to third when starter Jonathan Cannon’s pickoff attempt was high. With none out and runners on first and second, Simpson scored on a ground ball to third baseman Josh McAllister, whose fielder’s choice throw home was high and enabled the fleet Simpson to dive safely into home, caking his pinstriped uniform with clay.

Two batters later, Drew Compton slid an opposite-field grounder down the third-base line for a double that scored two more for a 3-0 lead on Cannon and the Bulldogs.

“That first inning, we make an error, we make a poor throw on a fielder’s choice, and who knows, we could be out of that at 0-0 if we just make a throw and we just didn’t do it,” Stricklin said. “When you play good teams, good teams make you pay. That’s what they did. It’s 3-0 before you could blink your eyes.”

Tech struck big again in the fourth, when second baseman Tim Borden launched a 3-2 Cannon fastball over the wall in right-center, landing on top of the camera tower, a 415-foot blast. It was his second home run in 15 at-bats this season, not bad for an 8-hole hitter, and set off a raucous celebration in the stands and home plate.

“(Friday) with the fans and everything, it was more just like, O.K, I have no clue what just happened there,” Borden said. “Let me come back down to earth, just calm down, take a deep breath. It was a lot of fun. Everybody was enjoying it, having fun. That’s all that matters.”

It was an apt choice of words. After touching home, Borden leapt for a chest bump with teammate John Anderson and did not bring quite as much force into the collision, coming back to earth on his back.

“Good start to the weekend, and I think probably all the games are going to be like that because I think both teams are really good,” Hall said.