At 1 p.m. on Friday, Georgia Tech and UConn will square off in their first NCAA Tournament game on ESPN 3. In order to get a handle on what to expect, we talked to baseball extraordinaire Cade Lawson about the team.
1) Georgia Tech has not had very good results lately, after going 0-3 in pool play in the ACC Tournament, with their only win in their last six against Boston College. Box scores can only tell us so much, so how has the product on the field been over the past few weeks?
FTRS: It has been extremely frustrating to watch. Most experts agreed that winning just one of those three games would have been sufficient to clinch a berth pretty comfortably, and even though it worked out pretty well it was unsettling to see Tech flounder in such big situations. The offensive production has been surprisingly inconsistent despite an all-around successful year, particularly in the ACC Tournament. The thing to remember about this team is that it's very young and inexperienced, leading it to be relatively prone to inconsistency. We've see these guys beat Miami 12-1, allow 29 runs over the next two games, then turn right around and beat Savannah State 21-3. It has been frustrating, but the on-field product should be good to go for the regional.
2) Do you think that the Yellow Jackets can reverse the poor results that they have had lately and make a run in this regional?
FTRS: I think the team absolutely has the ceiling to win this regional, but whether or not they'll hit their stride fast enough remains to be seen. The way Tech lost its last game, against NC State on a dropped fly ball, is hardly inspirational, but we won't know how much of an effect that will have until Friday. Overall, the team has experienced many peaks and valleys but has generally responded well to adversity. It will be very interesting to see which Georgia Tech team shows up this weekend.
3) What is the Yellow Jackets’ biggest strength?
FTRS: The team's proclivity for making comebacks has probably been Tech's biggest strength this year. That unique aspect of Tech's game has been both very welcome and very well-received by fans, even leading to the nickname "Cardiac Jackets" for their late-game heroics at times. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly makes the team so good in this regard, but I'd like to believe that it's a combination of good coaching from longtime head coach Danny Hall and the general talent of the hitters on the team. The power especially has been inconsistent at times this year, but the team always finds a way to make it work late in games. It's also worth nothing that Tech leads the nation in double plays turned, so that's another quirky little strength that's helped make this season successful enough for an NCAA berth.
4) How about their weakness?
FTRS: Tech's biggest weakness is almost unquestionably the starting pitching. Outside of ace Brandon Gold (2.88 ERA), a converted infielder, the starting staff has been largely inconsistent and at times even ineffective all year long. That's especially frustrating for Tech fans when you consider how successful the starters had the potential to be prior to a rash of injuries. It started before the season when freshman Tristin English sustained an injury which prohibited him from pitching all year long (though he has played 1B/DH very well) and only got worse when Jonathan Hughes, a second-round pick of the Orioles who elected not to sign, and longtime anchor Jonathan King were also injured. Someone besides Gold is going to need to step up in a big way if the Jackets want to win this regional.
5) Who should we look out for? Who is the player or couple of players that can really change the game?
FTRS: Look no further than the heart of Tech's order for some impact players. There are plenty of guys who have contributed, but I'm going to have to go with sophomore outfielder Kel Johnson and senior outfielder Matt Gonzalez -- two of Tech's most reliable bats. Gonzalez in particular has been phenomenal from his freshman year, even leading the nation in career hits at the moment. Johnson is a straight-up power bat, having hit a team-high 11 home runs this year. If I remember correctly, they've gone back-to-back with homers a couple of times this year, including one time against rival Georgia. They really make the offense click.
6) Who is the probable pitcher for Game 1 against the Huskies?
FTRS: I think that safest bet right now is Brandon Gold, but there's some speculation that he could be saved for Florida. I personally think that saving your ace for a team you may not even get to play is a bit silly, but to each his own I suppose. That said, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see closer Matthew Gorst get the start on Friday. He pitched a career-high in innings recently and is realistically Tech's best shot at getting a quality start outside of Gold; he's posted a 0.41 ERA so far this year as a reliever.