Georgia Tech’s postseason hopes brightening but still uncertain

Credit: Eldon Lindsay/Georgia Tech Athle

Credit: Eldon Lindsay/Georgia Tech Athle

After 47 regular-season games and with eight to play, Georgia Tech appears to be in about the same situation it was in when the season began.

The Yellow Jackets are towards the bottom of the ACC standings with an outside chance at making it into the NCAA Tournament. Tech has reached this point with another excellent season at the plate – this time outperforming expectations after a severe talent drain – and having been lacking on the mound, in part because of a string of injuries to the pitching staff.

After a crucial home series win over Pitt this past weekend, coach Danny Hall’s team stands 28-19 overall and 10-14 in the ACC, good for sixth in the ACC Coastal Division and in 11th best overall in the league. (Tech was picked to finish fifth in the Coastal before the season.) The top 12 teams qualify for the ACC Tournament, and Tech’s hopes of advancing into NCAA play for the fourth consecutive season (not counting the canceled season of 2020) and 24th time in Hall’s 30 seasons rest on the Jackets making it to the conference tournament in Durham, N.C.

After having five field players drafted off of the Jackets’ historically productive lineup, including 11th overall pick Kevin Parada, Tech was third in Division I in batting average (.329, .327 a year ago), seventh in slugging percentage (.552, .551) and 12th in runs per game (8.9, 9.4) after the weekend’s games. The pitching staff and defense, which a year ago constrained the team’s potential, remain mired in mediocrity – 210th in ERA (6.65, 6.57) 155th in strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.82, 1.89) and 136th in fielding percentage (.970, .968).

Redshirt freshman Kristian Campbell (.394 batting average), Mercer transfer Angelo DiSpigna (.389, .502 on-base percentage after a .252/.354 season at Mercer last year) and two-way player Jackson Finley (17 home runs) have been among the Jackets’ most potent mashers. Rightfielder Stephen Reid was named national and ACC player of the week on Monday after dinging Pitt for three home runs on Sunday in a 15-3 win and four for the series.

Hall’s pitching staff has had injuries and performance lags from the outset. Dawson Brown, Logan McGuire and Finley, who were the opening weekend starters, have started a combined 22 games, and McGuire hasn’t pitched since mid-April due to an arm injury. Their performance when healthy (combined ERA of 6.85) has been inconsistent.

However, Hall appears to have decided on a weekend rotation of Luke Schmolke, Aeden Finateri and Finley. They helped lead the Jackets’ series win over Pitt, which was held to .225 hitting and nine runs scored over the three games. The run total was a season best for Tech in any three-game series and the opponent batting average its season best in a three-game series a power-conference opponent.

The postseason picture, for the ACC Tournament and more so for the NCAA Tournament, is murky. Tech stood 52nd in RPI after the weekend, not strong enough at present to merit NCAA Tournament consideration. But the Jackets finish the regular season with two league series that will give them the opportunity to demonstrate their merits. Tech will be at Duke this weekend and finish at home against Virginia (May 18-20) with midweek games at Kennesaw State Wednesday and at Mercer May 16.

Duke is No. 7 in RPI and Virginia is No. 10.

Tech can probably get into the ACC Tournament by going .500 against Duke and UVA. But, barring the Jackets winning the conference tournament and securing the automatic berth, they may need to win both series for their NCAA hopes to stay afloat. They’re 3-6 in weekend series against power-conference opponents, although one of the series wins was against Clemson (No. 13 in RPI).

The Jackets appear to have found their stride, however, winning seven of the past eight. To attain the postseason, they’ll need to keep it up against a much tougher set of opponents.