February 14th is here and that means Beesball is here!! In its 117th season, Georgia Tech is hosting the Battle in Midtown, which is a round-robin tournament. Participating this year, in addition to the Yellow Jackets, are the Old Dominion Monarchs, the Radford Highlanders, and the Virginia Commonwealth Rams. In 20 seasons on the Flats, Danny Hall has only lost on opening day five times, while also winning the last five. Without further ado, let's look at the match-ups for this weekend.
Game 1: Georgia Tech vs. Old Dominion - Friday, February 14, 3 PM
For the first time since 2011 season, Georgia Tech's opening day starter will not be Buck Farmer. Instead, we will see sophomore LHP Jonathan King take the mound. In his freshman season on the Flats, King made 24 appearances with 10 starts. He finished 6-5 with a 4.04 ERA in 69 innings of the work. He finished the season very strongly for the Yellow Jackets. For the Monarchs, senior LHP Ryan Yarbrough will be taking the mound. A season ago, Yarbrough tied for the team lead with 13 starts. He finished 4-4 with 3.27 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 82.2 innings pitched.
Offensively for the Monarchs, the two players to watch are sophomore 2B PJ Higgins and senior DH Ben Slaton. As a freshman Higgins .336 while accumulating 18 runs and driving in 18 runs. Slaton hit .312 with three homeruns, 35 RBI, and 14 2B a year ago. The Monarchs offense took a big hit when star OF Ben Verlander was drafted by the Detroit Tigers this past year. And yes, before you ask, they are related.
Game 2: Georgia Tech vs. Radford - Saturday, February 15th, 4 PM
Game 2 brings another good pitching match-up. Pitching for Georgia Tech will be junior RHP Cole Pitts. A year ago, Pitts appeared in 19 games with 13 starts. He finished with 5-3 with 4.71 ERA in 65 innings. Right-handed batters only hit .246 off of him. Pitching for the Highlanders will be sophomore RHP Dylan Nelson. While he finished with a good record of 6-3, his ERA was absolutely atrocious at 7.63. To add to this, he only managed 23 strikeouts in 48.1 innings.
Offensively, the Highlanders have three key players coming back: junior IF Josh Gardiner, redshirt-sohpomore 1B/OF Zach Woolcock, and redshirt-junior C Josh Reavis. A year ago, Gardiner led the Highlanders in stolen bases with 20. He also added a .308 batting average. Woolcock was second on his team in both homeruns (2) and slugging percentage (.412). Josh Reavis led the Highlanders in batting average a year ago, hitting .319; however, he was not able to add any homeruns. Radford lost their biggest offensive threat from last year in Jeff Kemp. He led the team with 10 homeruns and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles.
Game 3: Georgia Tech vs. VCU - Sunday, February 16th, 2 PM
In game three, VCU appears to be sending what I consider to be a wildcard to the mound in junior in LHP JoJo Howie. A year ago for Everett Community College, Howie finished 9-1 with a 1.99 ERA. Obviously, this is a different level of competition than what he will see this year. Georgia Tech will be countering with their wildcard in junior RHP Josh Heddinger. A year ago, Heddinger made 16 appearances, including six spot starts. Heddinger made a name for himself last year in the Regional Semifinals, by shutting out Vanderbilt at their own stadium.
Offensively for the Rams, there's not a whole lot there. The one thing they do have going for them is returning some good experience. The biggest offensive threat for the Rams is junior 3B Joey Cujas. A year ago, Cujas hit .333 with a homerun and 40 RBI. Another offensive threat they have comes in the form of middle-IF Vimael Machin. Machin led the Rams in homeruns a year ago with four. He also added a .269 batting average before his season got cut short due to injury.
This should be a very competitive tournament. On paper, I believe that Georgia Tech is the best team in this tournament. Call it being a homer if you want to, but it is what I believe. Unfortunately, however, baseball is not played on paper. I think the Yellow Jackets will win two of the three games in this tournament. If you want to watch or listen to the game, both are available on ramblinwreck.com. To listen to it, you have to pay nothing; however, if you want to watch the game, you will have to pay.
What do y'all think? Who's the best team on paper? Who wins the tournament? How does GT do?
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