In previous seasons, Georgia Southern has found some success in sending freshman pitcher straight into the fire to make their first start against Georgia Tech in the teams’ traditional early-season midweek matchup.
That plan didn’t quite pan out Tuesday night.
Zach Strickland technically struck out the side in his one inning of work, but allowed five runs and four hits, walked two and uncorked a wild pitch as he received a rough welcome to his collegiate debut. In the end, Georgia Tech strutted out of town with a 10-3 victory.
Strickland ran into trouble from the get-go as he allowed singles to Wade Bailey and Joey Bart on both ends of a walk issued to Trevor Craport to begin the game, with Bart’s single scoring Bailey. Hits by Kyle McCann and Ryan Peurifoy knocked in three more runs, and a wild pitch that allowed Bart to score made it a 5-0 Georgia Tech lead before the Eagles took their first hacks.
“You’ve got to give (Georgia Tech) credit,” GS coach Rodney Hennon said. “They came out with a good plan against Zach and put up a five-spot. It’s hard when you get down a lot so early in the game. Sometimes, team let down a little in that situation, but Parr pitched well and they kept making big defensive plays to keep us from getting back into the game.”
The Yellow Jackets received production up and down their lineup, but it was a familiar face that continued to pile up the runs on the Eagles’ pitching staff.
Georgia Tech first baseman Kell Johnson turned the tide with a grand slam in the Jackets’ 7-4 victory at J.I. Clements in 2015. On Tuesday night, Johnson left the ballpark three more times. Johnson launched solo shots off of Seth Shuman in the second inning and Landon Hughes in the seventh before capping his night with a two-run blast off of Colt Ramsey in the ninth inning.
“He had a big night. What can you say?,” Hennon said.
In last weekend’s season-opening series, the Eagles often fought their way on base and got clutch hits, but had a hard time making consistent contact against Middle Tennessee State. The script was flipped on Tuesday night.
All but one of the Eagles’ starters recorded a hit while C.J. Ballard, Steven Curry, Evan McDonald and Jordan Wren all notched a pair of hits. The problem was everything that came after the table had been set as Georgia Southern left 17 runners on base.
“We had runners on the whole game and had good at-bats,” Hennon said. “We put ourselves in a position where a ball in the gap or running the ball out of the park would change the game, but they kept making plays to keeps us fromm getting back in it.”
Following the Jackets’ 5-run outburst in the first inning, Johnson provided the first of his three blasts in the third inning. In the fourth, Bailey scored, unearned, when the Eagles couldn’t convert a double-play chance on a ground ball by Bart.
Johnson’s final two home runs provided the rest of the Georgia Tech scoring.
Georgia Southern notched its runs on singles by Ballard, McDonald and Wren.
Ben Parr started for the Yellow Jackets and allowed just one run in 4.2 innings despite allowing eight hits and walking three Eagle batters. Parr fell just short of recording the win, which Jared Datoc picked up in 1.1 innings of effective relief.
Shuman pitched through the third inning after relieving Strickland and no Eagle pitcher threw more than a full inning after that. Zach Cowart and Jacob Condra-Bogan were the most effective, striking out four and allowing just one baserunner in their two innings of combined work.
“(Strickland) will get more opportunities. All of them will,” Hennon said. “We’ve played two good teams, so far. We’re going to figure some things out and use that to shape how we do things as we move ahead.”
Georgia Southern gets a couple of days of rest before locking horns with another in-state rival. Georgia comes to town for a three-game series that is slated to begin Friday evening.