The Yellow Jackets opened the season this weekend by hosting the Atlanta Challenge for the second straight year. (Other Atlanta Challenge hosts included Kennesaw State and Georgia State.) Two of the opponents were playing the Jackets for the first time ever.
Friday: Georgia Tech 5, BYU 3
W: Xzavion Curry (1-0) | L: Maverik Buffo (0-1) | S: Zac Ryan (1)
The Cougars, coming off a 37-17 season, met the Jackets for the first time ever on Friday. They started junior Maverik Buffo against the Yellow Jackets’ true freshman Xzavion Curry. The other freshmen Jacket starters were Austin Wilhite at SS and Chase Murray in left field. All contributed, with Wilhite notably making several nice plays at shortstop as he seeks to replace the great Connor Justus.
Ryan Peurifoy showed some power and got Georgia Tech on the board with a solo home run in the bottom of the 2nd. Freshman Chase Murray followed with his first career hit, then saved Curry’s shutout in the top of the 3rd with a pretty throw to home to get Anderson trying to score from 2nd on a single. Tech added two in the bottom 3rd on a pitcher’s pickoff error and a Kel Johnson sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the 5th, Johnson got his 2nd and 3rd RBI on a homer to left after a Joey Bart single. It was 5-0 Jackets with Curry looking good on the mound, but apparently on a pitch count — Curry was relieved by Jake Lee for the 6th inning. With one out, Lee gave up a two-run homer to right center to BYU’s Colton Shaver to pull the Cougars to within 5-2.
Jared Datoc came in to pitch the 7th and returned in the 8th, when a BYU RBI single made it 5-3. Senior Zac Ryan came in to pitch and coaxed a 3-1 ground ball out to end that threat. He then worked around a one out single in the 9th, getting back-to-back 5-3 groundouts to get the save and Curry the win. Ryan as an effective closer will be a huge benefit for the team.
Saturday: Georgia Tech 11, Marshall 3
W: Ben Parr (1-0) | L: Jacob Niggemeyer (0-1)
The Thundering Herd visited following their Friday 8-2 loss at the hands of Ga State. Junior RHP Jacob Niggemeyer went against the Yellow Jackets’ returning redshirt freshman Jonathan Hughes. It was Hughes’ first outing since an early-season injury in Tallahassee required surgery and ended his 2016 season.
The Jackets struck hard and often starting in the 2nd. With two outs and one on, a single by Chase Murray, an RBI single by Austin Wilhite, and a 2-run double by Wade Bailey gave Georgia Tech a 3-0 lead. Trevor Craport followed with a 2-run homer to left, Joey Bart hit a solo blast off the scoreboard, and then Kel Johnson hit a bomb of his own off of the center field batter’s eye to give the Jackets a 7-0 lead. The back-to-back-to-back home runs ended Niggemeyer’s game after recording only 5 outs.
In the top 3rd, Peurifoy got the outfield’s second assist of the weekend by throwing out Marshall’s Sam Finfer at 2nd. Tech added two in the 3rd on a Craport double off the wall and two in the 4th on Wilhite and Bailey singles. Ben Parr relieved Hughes for the 5th, giving him a gradual start to his comeback season. Parr picked up the win in vulture fashion since Hughes didn’t complete the requisite five innings.
With an 11-0 lead in the 7th, Coach Hall started clearing the bench and lots of freshmen and upper class players got some innings. Ben Schneiderjans (brother of the former Jacket — and current pro golfer — Ollie) pitched well coming off his own injury-laden 2016 season, and Patrick Wiseman turned a nice unassisted double play at first base by diving for a line drive and tagging the runner trying to return to first base. Robert Winborne pitched the 8th without any scoring before Marshall broke the shutout in the 9th off Bailey Combs. Georgia Tech came away with the win by a comfortable 11-3 margin.
Sunday: Georgia Tech 8, Western Michigan 3
W: Keyton Gibson (1-0) | L: Jack Szott (0-1)
The Broncos lost their first two Atlanta Challenge games to KSU and GSU 17-4 and 6-4 and came into Atlanta looking to salvage the weekend and beat the Jackets for the first time in four tries. Sophomore RHP Jack Szott took the mound while Tech countered with sophomore Keyton Gibson.
The Jackets waited until the 3rd to score Sunday, when they broke through with singles by Ryan Peurifoy and Austin Wilhite, followed by a 2-run double from Wade Bailey and an RBI triple from Craport. Kel Johnson then brought Craport home with a two-out single, and Georgia Tech led 4-0. Western Michigan answered with one in the top of the 5th with a two-out solo home run by Tanner Allison.
Jonathan King, returning for his redshirt senior year after having some arm problems of his own over the last few years, started the 6th and ran into some trouble with a lead-off double and walk before getting two fly ball outs, the first a scary-looking deep ball that left fielder Chase Murray was able to come down with. Despite his struggles in the 6th, King’s return is welcome and his senior leadership needed. He got a strong ovation when he was relieved by Jared Datoc with two outs. Datoc forced the ensuing batter to fly out to right, ending the Broncos’ threat.
Western Michigan scored again in the 7th with Datoc hitting the lead-off batter being replaced by Jay Shadday with one out. Shadday gave up a double to Allison, putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. From there, Coach Danny Hall replaced Shadday with Micah Carpenter, who forced a fly ball out before a Craport error allowed a run to score. With two outs, Wilhite was unable to make a play on a grounder and suddenly Georgia Tech’s lead had been cut to 4-3. Another ground ball up the middle was knocked down by Wilhite, who made a beautiful throw home to get the base runner trying to score from second to end a scary inning with Tech still leading.
The Jackets got some insurance in the 8th with a clutch hit by Wilhite to drive in Murray and Carter Hall. Craport drove in Wilhite to restore the four-run lead and Johnson drove in Craport to make it 8-3. Zac Ryan came in to close, and made quick work of the Broncos after giving up a lead-off single.
Georgia Tech swept its three Atlanta Challenge opponents for the second straight year. Several freshmen made real contributions, especially Austin Wilhite at SS where he made several very nice plays going deep into the hole and throwing strong to first. He and Chase Murray had good weekends at the plate, with Wilhite batting .667 and Murray .455. Among the upper class, Bailey is hitting .417, Craport is .385, and Johnson is .364. Peurifoy at .300, Bart at .281, and Stallings at 0.083 are starting slowly. The team is batting .327 to their opponents’ .243 and has outscored them 24-9.
The pitching staff successfully brought back three injured arms and debuted a talented freshman in Xzavion Curry. Keyton Gibson looked very solid Sunday in his second year. The staff shows a 2.33 ERA vs 6.00 for our opponents.
It’s not ACC-caliber competition yet, but it was a great start overall for Georgia Tech this weekend. The Jackets travel to Statesboro for a Tuesday game before returning home for a weekend series against visiting Youngstown State.