We begin our series of schedule previews by taking a look at the month of February today. While the weather outside will still be quite frigid, the Jackets begin the season with some crucial non-conference games that will have a major impact on the team’s postseason hopes.
As usual, Georgia Tech begins the season by hosting three teams from the north as part of the Atlanta Challenge. The visitors face off with Tech, Georgia State, and Kennesaw State over the three day stretch from 2/15 to 2/17. This year, the opponents will be Illinois-Chicago, Richmond, and West Virginia.
Tech faced Illinois-Chicago in a series last season, taking the first two games 5-0 and 3-2 before dropping the finale 12-5. Although they missed the NCAA tournament, UIC finished a respectable 27-18 last year.
Richmond also had a solid 2018 season, going 32-24, 15-9 in the Atlantic 10 and picking up victories over teams like Maryland and Virginia.
West Virginia went 29-27 last season and finished with a very strong RPI of 52. They went to the NCAA tournament in 2017 and usually have a solid program.
The toughest part of the Atlanta Challenge every year is that most teams throw their ace against us in hopes of picking up a quality win. The bright side this year is that Tech returns plenty of pitching and won’t have to waste weekends figuring out who its best arms are. I think we beat UIC and Richmond on the backs of Xzavion Curry and Connor Thomas, but drop a high scoring affair to WVU on Saturday.
The next Friday-Sunday, Tech squares off against the defending Minneapolis regional finalists, who are ranked number 5 in the nation preseason by D1 Baseball. The Bruins went 38-21 last year and finished the year with an RPI of 22. Chase Strumpf, Ryan Garcia, and Matt McLain headline the young nucleus that has UCLA looking to be a national contender in 2019. Danny Hall should be commended for getting a weekend series against them on the schedule.
Winning a series against this team will go a long way when the selection committee is making its decisions in May. I like the Jackets to get the job done and take two out of three from the preseason Pac-12 favorites, behind a strong start from Connor Thomas and the bats of Chase Murray and Kyle McCann.
Tech faces off with Georgia Southern in Statesboro on the 19th and then Georgia State twice, at home on the 26th and on the road on the 27th. Tech beat Georgia Southern both times the teams faced off in 2018 and have won 10 in a row against the Eagles. Danny Hall’s club split its games against Georgia State last season.
Georgia Southern went 30-26 last year and finished #81 in RPI, while Georgia State went 25-29 with an RPI of 137.
Tech’s stability in its pitching rotation this year and maturity of its young relievers will be a big help in midweek games this season. Whether Tristin English, Brant Hurter, Luke Bartnicki, or someone else ends up starting these games, Tech is more talented than these teams and should win all three of these games.
I expect Tech to be 7-2 when the calendar turns over to March, which would be a tremendous start given the competition and have the team well on their way to the NCAA bid that should be the goal this season.