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Maryland baseball: Terps can assure an ACC berth by taking the series from GA Tech (updated)

The Terps have an opportunity to gain serious post-season creds if they can take the series against the Yellow Jackets. However, Georgia Tech has been playing lights out recently.

Pitching match-ups for the series:

Friday: MD - Jake Stinnett, (3-5, 2.77) vs. GT - Josh Heddinger, Jr., (R) (2-1, 4.58)

Saturday: MD - Mike Shawaryn, (6-2, 2.77) vs. GT - Devin Stanton, R Jr., (L) (3-1, 2.58)

Sunday: MD - Jake Drossner, (4-0, 2.05) vs. GT - Matthew Grimes, R Jr., (R) (4-1, 3.32)

Maryland hasn't played Georgia Tech in three years. Our overall record against them is a dismal 23 - 70. But the upcoming series against #30 Georgia Tech is one where the Terps can gain post-season traction if they prevail. It certainly won't be easy against a red-hot Yellow Jackets team. However Georgia Tech has been less than stellar playing on the road.

Yellow Jackets making a buzz

What a difference a fortnight can make. On the evening of Sunday March 30th Georgia Tech found themselves having just been swept by Pittsburgh. The Yellow Jackets stood at 15 - 13 overall and 5 - 7 in ACC play. They had upcoming series against Duke and Florida State, so things had to look bleak at that point for Yellow Jackets fans. Then GA Tech got rolling and reeled off eight straight wins, including a sweep of Duke and taking two straight from Florida State. As a result Georgia Tech is now ranked with a 24 -14 record, 10 - 8 in ACC play.

Last season was another streaky one for Georgia Tech. After starting the season 18 - 3 and being situated as high as #10, the Yellow Jackets went 15 - 20 the rest of the regular season. They won one of three in the ACC tournament and then headed out to Nashville for the NCAA Regionals. There the Yellow Jackets almost advanced to the Super Regionals, only to lose to host Vanderbilt to end their season.

Georgia Tech loss some key position players from their 2013 squad to the MLB draft. Difficult to replace would be catcher Zane Evans (.361 BA, 14 HR) and right fielder Dan Palka (.342 BA, 17 HR). Also gone are outfielders Kyle Wren and Brandon Thomas, both of whom batted well above .300. But the Yellow Jackets do return a host of position players, including second baseman Mott Hyde and outfielder Matt Gonzales. One player who has significantly improved this season is Daniel Spingola, currently leading the team with a .333 average (last year he hit .256). Spingola also leads the team in stolen bases, going 10 - 11 so far.

But there's no denying that the Yellow Jackets lost some serious lumber. While their batting average (.287) does lead the ACC, their home run production has sharply decreased. The 2014 Yellow Jackets display warning track power, as evidenced by their 71 doubles and 14 triples. In terms of base running Georgia Tech ranks in the middle of the conference, their two threats to run being Spingola and Hyde.

The Yellow Jackets bring in a heralded freshman class that's already paying dividends. Connor Justus has become one of the best shortstops in the ACC. Along with third baseman Brandon Gold the Yellow Jackets have solidified the left side of their infield for the next three years.

The Yellow Jackets do return a large part of their pitching staff. At first blush this may not seem advantageous, as last year's staff had an ERA of 4.35. But in 2014 GA Tech has lowered their team ERA by more than a run per game. The Yellow Jackets got back Matthew Grimes, a promising pitcher who sat out last year due to an arm injury. Where the GA Tech hurlers have run into difficulty is in their control: they top the ACC in walks allowed and rank third in wild pitches thrown.

Here's why the series is so critical

After Georgia Tech the Terps have series against Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame. All of these series are ones the Terps should win. But Maryland doesn't want to find themselves needing to sweep one or two of the series. Plus, winning the series against Georgia Tech would mean that Maryland took a series from two quality ACC schools: NC State and the Yellow Jackets. In terms of the NCAA Tournament, the Terrapins are still very much in the discussion: see here.

Tradin' questions with my Georgia Tech compadre

To gain some insight into the Yellow Jackets' team I traded questions with fellow SB Nation writer Nathan Muller, who covers baseball for GA Tech's "From the Rumble Seat". Below are his answers to my questions. You can find my answers to his questions about the Terps after noon on Friday here.

What happened after the Pittsburgh series to get Georgia Tech moving?

There were two components to the "Aberration in Allegheny:" - This is a young team, by nature inconsistent and subject to wild mood swings. Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game pointed out in his chat yesterday that young teams especially go as their confidence goes, and there wasn't a whole lot of confidence after the bad play against Mercer the Tuesday preceding the Pitt series. - There was snow on the ground. As one of the players said to the 3rd base ump during the midweek game after the team got back: "you can't play baseball with snow on the ground." Especially if your baseball team is a bunch of North Ga. and California boys like ours.

(AAK: We can only hope for weather like we had earlier in the year!)

2. It seems as if your pitching has improved considerably. Has it just been your starting pitching or have your relievers also been effective? Further, it seems as if your weekend starting rotation has been by committee. Do you think that Coach Hall has finally settled on his weekend staff?

The entire pitching staff has been remarkable. Midweek starter Ben Parr has a 1.3 ERA since assuming the job full-time five weeks ago, and the weekend rotation is throwing 3.49 ball. Closer "Trusty" Dusty Isaacs has also been phenomenal, with a 2.01 ERA in 31.1 IP. To you latter question; yes, I think coach has finally got his weekend rotation worked out. There was some turmoil there in the beginning of the season with Sophomore ace-apparent Jonathan King getting injured and ace-regent Devin Stanton coming back from shoulder injury, but the Jackets have settled into things now.

3. Which two freshman/JUCO transfers have been pleasant surprises?

Like I mentioned earlier, Frosh LHP Ben Parr has been incredible. In his last game vs. UGA he put up six scoreless frames while striking out seven and walking two. He threw 114 pitches, so if UMD can get patient they might be able to get him, but it's hard to get patient against his slider. Freshman P Tanner Shelton has also been a good middle reliever for Tech, providing some much-needed relief in that role after senior reliever Alex Cruz got kicked off the team in early March. You brought up Connor Justus, who is not a pitcher but has still been lights out all over the field. Kid has 21 straight games without an error and has hit .455 in the past four games, which has come against some of the top talent on the schedule (FSU and UGA). Just wanted to point out you probably shouldn't it it in his direction :)