The 2-1 Wolfpack Baseball team is headed into ACC play this weekend, with Danny Hall's Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets making the trip to Raleigh for each team's first conference series.
Both of these teams have high expectations this season, so it's sure to be a fun series at Doak Field. So without further ado, let's take a look at Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets were picked to finish in third-place in the Coastal Division in the ACC Baseball Preseason Coaches Poll, despite currently sitting at fifteenth in D1 Baseball.com's latest Top 25 Rankings, echoing how tough the ACC will be this season.
As mentioned previously, Georgia Tech is led by Danny Hall, who is currently in his twenty-eighth season as the Yellow Jackets' skipper. Hall's teams are typically known for their offensive prowess, as in fifteen of his twenty-seven years in Atlanta, Tech has finished either first or second in the conference in batting or run production. Alongside that, Hall has guided the Yellow Jackets to twenty-one NCAA Tournament appearances and three College World Series appearances.
This year's Tech squad currently sits at 3-1 after taking two-of-three from Eastern Kentucky on opening weekend, and winning a midweek contest against Mercer on Wednesday.
Hall recently announced that this weekend's starting rotation on the mound for the Yellow Jackets would be Brant Hurter on Friday, Andy Archer on Saturday, and Sam Crawford on Sunday. After sitting out the shortened 2020 season due to injury, Hurter made his first start since April 2019 last Friday. The left-hander allowed just one run on four hits over 4.2 innings pitched, despite showing a bit of a wild side by walking three batters and plunking another one. Hurter stands at 6'6, 250-pounds, and prior to having Tommy John Surgery was one of the most promising young pitchers in the ACC.
Archer was on the bump for the Jackets' loss to Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, but in no way had a bad performance. The redshirt-junior was pulled after three innings of work, giving up two runs, just one of which was earned, on two hits and strikeout out four batters. Archer made four appearances in last year's shortened season, but operated as a bullpen pitcher in 2020.
Crawford, a Raleigh native, shined in his first career start last Sunday, throwing six scoreless innings and giving up just two hits. Crawford was one of Tech's biggest bullpen contributors in 2020, making nine appearances in the sixteen games the Yellow Jackets played last season. The 6'2 lefty will be a tough challenge for the Wolfpack, as it is mandatory that all student-athletes from Raleigh have standout performances while playing against State.
Tech looks to have a strong cohort of bullpen assistance, as eight Yellow Jackets have already made at least two relief appearances through just four total games. Joseph Mannelly leads the way amongst Tech relievers, with 5.0 innings pitched and an impressive 1.80 ERA in two appearances. Mannelly is also the Yellow Jackets' leader in strikeouts, with seven so far this year.
Cort Roedig started Wednesday's game against Mercer for Tech, but spends time as a reliever during the weekend as well. Over 3.2 innings pitched, Roedig is currently holding opponents to a .083 batting average, and will likely be one of the conference's better midweek starters this season. Despite Roedig's efforts against Mercer, Jackson Finley was credited with the win on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see if Finley makes an appearance this weekend, as despite earning the win, he's given up four earned runs, has hit two batters, and has thrown multiple wild pitches on just 2.2 innings of work so far this season.
Luke Bartnicki, Hugh Chapman, Ben King, Dalton Smith, John Medich, and Chance Huff (a Vanderbilt transfer who also has a great first name) have each already made multiple relief appearances for the Yellow Jackets, so keep an eye out for each of those names this weekend.
Offensively, Tech comes into this weekend's series with the second-highest batting average in the ACC at .306, sitting behind only the Wolfpack who have a .402 average through three games.
"COVID-Freshman" Drew Compton and true freshman Kevin Parada have led the way in the batter's box so far for the Yellow Jackets, posting batting averages of .583 and .556 so far, combining for three home runs while only striking out a combined three times.
Shortstop Luke Waddell is currently tied for the team lead with seven hits, coming into this weekend with a .412 average. Jake DeLeo and Stephen Reid, both freshmen, maintain .375 averages so far this year, tallying a combined thirteen hits.
Tres Gonzalez adds some flexibility to the Yellow Jackets' lineup, having drawn five walks so far this season and is the team's leader with two stolen bases. Gonzalez is not nearly as offensively gifted as some of his teammates in terms of either contact-hitting or power, but has a disciplined eye in terms of drawing walks and certainly adds some speed on the base paths. Oddly enough, his father Eddie was at one time the captain of State's tennis team.
As longtime conference foes, State and Tech have met 133 times on the baseball diamond, with the Yellow Jackets holding a 75-58 lead in the all-time series. In spite of that, State has won each of the last five three-game series between the two teams.
Most recently, the Wolfpack and Yellow Jackets met on May 25th, 2019 in the semifinals of the 2019 ACC Baseball Tournament, where Tech beat State 9-2.
This weekend's series will take place at Doak Field at Dail Park on campus at NC State, with select attendees in the stands, as the Wolfpack Baseball team announced on Twitter on Thursday that they will not begin allowing 30% capacity until a later date. Friday's game will take place at 3PM, Saturday's at 2PM, and Sunday's at 1PM, weather-permitting, as the forecast in Raleigh does not look great for this weekend. All games will be streamed on the ACC Network Extra on the WatchESPN app, as well as a radio stream on WKNC 88.1 FM in addition to the TuneIn app.
NC State Head Coach Elliott Avent announced this week that Evan Justice will be the starting pitcher on Friday, as well as Sam Highfill on Saturday, with Chris Villaman patrolling the duties on the bump come Sunday. Justice, Highfill, and Villaman have started each of State's games so far, and have shown promise thus far.
I am definitely willing to admit that I still have a bad taste in my mouth from Tuesday's debacle against UNC-Greensboro. As a result of that, I don't have too much optimism heading into the first ACC series of the year against a really solid Georgia Tech team.
The Yellow Jackets are built tough in every aspect, with their starting rotation, bullpen, and lineup all near the top of the conference.
Unless State's bullpen shows strengths which they yet to have provided this year, I don't see any way that the Wolfpack win this series. However, I do think that State will have at least one starting performance good enough to earn a win.
I'll take Georgia Tech to win two-of-three this weekend, as they're as fundamentally sound as any team in the nation. Hopefully I'm wrong, and the Wolfpack will be eager to prove that Tuesday's disappointing loss was just a fluke, and that State is a real threat to win the ACC this season.
Thanks for reading, and Go Pack.