The Atlanta Challenge 2019 began for the Jackets with familiar foe Illinois-Chicago visiting Russ Chandler for a single game. Xzavion Curry continued as the Friday starter for his third straight year, having previously pitched 14 innings of shutout ball against the Flames in 2017 and 2018. He went against RHP Jacob Key and finally give up runs to them but still got the win.
The story of the game was strong pitching by both teams punctuated by an inning of impressive power by the Jackets. The bottom of the third saw the breakout by Tech. With one out, McCann homered to dead center; next batter English walked and was pushed around by Murray going deep to left. Not to be outdone, Serratos went into the trees in right and the Jackets led 4-0. They tacked on a run in their 5th when English’s swinging bunt drove in Waddell from 3rd after Luke had doubled and stole a base. Xzavion meanwhile had 10 K’s through his first five frames of shutout pitching, but ran in to trouble afterwards and had to come out.
In the 5th, UIC went to the bullpen for lefty freshman Mark McCabe with two outs and Serratos on 3rd. Key had pitched well aside from the three long balls in the third inning, and McCabe made an impressive first college showing to finish the game for UIC.
Xzavion looked vulnerable in the top of the 6th, when a single and HR to right by Thomas Smart made it 5-2. After another single, Brandt Hurter relieved Curry and retired the Flames in order with two K’s.
Hurter walked the first batter in the 7th, and Coach Hall quickly brought in Jonathan Hughes, who retired the Flames in order.
After Austin Wilhite drove in the Jackets’ sixth run with a sac fly to left scoring Murray from 3rd, the Flames got it right back with their own sac fly run in the 8th, making it 6-3. Fortunately, Hughes showed some grit and stamina by closing the inning with no more damage.
Tristin English came in to pitch the 9th and the Junior two-way star finished the game with a strong performance, showing the temporary arm pain he’d been battling in pre-season was not a problem for a short outing.
It was a strong opening day for the Jackets. A really bright spot to me was Hughes looking so resilient. I imagine we’ll see a lot of pitchers brought in for single innings as the coaching staff sorts out the bullpen. We think the Jackets will have a strong offense this season, and nothing today contradicts that expectation.