The 2015 college baseball season is coming up on its final approach. With just 12 ACC games left, wins are fast at a premium for teams jockeying for a chance to play in the conference tournament in Durham, NC.
No team understands the concept of "just getting in" like the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. They limped into the conference tournament with a 14-16 record, one game ahead of NC State for the 10th and final seed. After defeating Wake Forest in the play-in round, they advanced to Pool Play. Going 2-1 and winning the tiebreaker scenario over Clemson, they played in the ACC Championship Game against sixth-seeded Maryland, who they defeated to advance to the national tournament.
Without winning the league, it's likely Georgia Tech would've ended up as a bubble team on the wrong side last season. They were one of the final teams into the conference tournament, then used the right matchups with a little bit of hot baseball to win the league. In winning the league, they went to the NCAA Tournament.
So while the playoff format will change this year to a true bracket, it shows just how fortunate a team can be in the right scenario. A team like Boston College, with the right matchup, can win their way into the double elimination games and have a puncher's chance at winning the league.
That's what makes these games so important. One game out of the conference tournament's final seed, BC needs to come up big against Tech at home. They need to get some wins to at least pull into a virtual tie with Virginia Tech. Since the Hokies already swept Virginia back in March, it becomes even more imperative for the Eagles to pick up wins where available in order to make later series that much more important.
On the flip side, Georgia Tech comes into this game in a five-way tie for fourth place, so wins are at a premium for them. One slip here or there could be the difference between finishing fourth and finishing eighth. That's the difference between a favorable draw in the brackets and a tougher road to the title. Even though the last team in can win, a team always wants to have a lighter road where possible.
Record: 24-12 (9-9 ACC)
Last Time Out: Took two of three from Virginia (4-14, 11-4, 4-3) before their game with Georgia was postponed
Around The Horn
There really aren't any gimmes for the Eagles looking down the rest of the season, especially with the playoffs factoring into so much the rest of the way. Georgia Tech is no exception.
They enter this weekend hitting .287 as a team, one of the better offenses the Eagles will face this season. Freshman Kel Johnson sent a message in his first weekend of collegiate baseball by ripping a double and homer against St. John's, becoming the first freshman to win ACC Player of the Week in his first weekend since Mike McGee in 2008. He's been on a tear since, hitting .379 with seven homers and 25 RBI in 23 games with a slugging percentage of .705.
Catcher Arden Pabst is hitting .304 on the season with nine doubles and 16 RBI in 27 games, so when you have numbers like that, it's hard to say, "Well he's a better defensive threat." But Pabst, as a sophomore, is on the Watch List for the Johnny Bench Award with 17 caught base runners. He's caught runners at a rate of just under 46% and is tied for fifth most in the nation.
Those are a couple of big names, but this Yellow Jacket lineup is loaded. Keenan Innis is hitting .320 in 31 games. Daniel Spingola is just under .300 at .299 in 36 games with 25 RBI on the season. Wade Bailey - .290 with 18 RBI.
AJ Murray leads the team in driving in runs with 34, but his .271 average is considered "mediocre" compared to the rest of the starters. Yeah right.
Georgia Tech's offense scored 220 runs this year through 36 games. They've legged out 520 total bases. Barring a collapse, they're likely to be in the field of 64 when the Road To Omaha kicks up. Their offense is downright good, and the BC pitchers are going to have their hands full.
For the Eagles, they made alterations to their starting weekend lineup. Mike King gets the call against Jonathan King on Friday, with John Gorman getting the ball on Saturday. BC has yet to name a Sunday starter.
On The Bump
Georgia Tech enters this weekend with a hittable but still good staff. Brandon Gold's 5-1 record with a 2.89 ERA stands out among the tops on the staff, but he throws Sunday in the rubber match. Before that, the Wreck are sending lefty Johnathan King (2-2, 4.64) and Cole PItts (0-3, 5.61) to the hill. Neither light up the stat sheet, and they've both had some pretty rough outings over the course of the season.
The key for the BC hitting lineup will be to get after the starting pitchers. The Eagles seldom are tied into the late stages of a game, having been knotted up after six innings only four times. But there's a stark contrast for the lineup against bullpens - when leading after six, they're 15-1. When they trail after six, they're 1-15. When they're leading after eight, they're a perfect 18-0. When they're trailing or tied after eight, they're a perfect 0-18.
Some other meaningful stats: BC is 15-4 when outhitting opponents, but they're 3-11 when being outhit. They're 13-6 when scoring first, and they're 11-2 when scoring six or more runs. They're 4-13 when allowing six or more runs.
Georgia Tech's pitching staff is hittable with an ERA well over 4.00, and two of the weekend starters aren't lighting the world on fire. What's that mean? It means watch the lineup in the early goings. If BC can get traction early, they'll stand to win a couple of games.
There are a couple of big series to keep an eye on for both teams because of the logjam that exists in the ACC. From an Eagles standpoint, Virginia Tech hosts North Carolina, and Virginia hosts Miami. That makes us all Tar Heels and Canes fans for a couple of days.
For Yellow Jacket fans, Wake Forest heads to Louisville, Duke plays at Clemson, and NC State plays at Notre Dame. If any of those teams can garner a sweep, then there's going to be some moving and grooving at some point in the standings.
Music To Listen To As You're Blinded By The Gold Uniforms of GT
Charlie Daniels Band - Devil Went Down To Georgia. Every now and then I get to dust this one off when BC plays Georgia Tech. The devil might be in Georgia, but he's coming up this weekend in a big weekend series.
Fun Fact Of The Week
For all that everyone complains about Shea Field, the Eagles are 4-2 this year playing true home games. Friday's game will finally mean they've played more games at home than they did at the New England Baseball Complex.
Provided no other games get moved, BC will end up playing 16 true home games this season.
I think Georgia Tech's pitching is just bad enough to let the Eagles hang around. If BC can knock around the starting pitching, there's enough arms to keep them at bay. I don't think we'll see multiple six or seven run innings over this weekend.
But I think a three-run inning isn't out of the question, and with Chris Shaw out of the lineup, we're seeing new heroes step up. Donovan Casey, Johnny Adams, Jake Palomaki, and Joe Cronin have all had big hits lately. Steve Sauter and Nick Sciortino are doing a fine job, and this team is converting itself into a blue collar squad ready to make the push.
In order to make the push, though, they have to win two games this weekend. Will they? Hard to tell.