As we approach Friday's opening round of the Oxford regional, we figured we'd get a little insight into some of Ole Miss's competition, starting with 3-seeded Georgia Tech. For that we turned to Grant Heffley, a contributor for SB Nation's fine Yellow Jackets blog, From the Rumble Seat.
My questions are in bold, Grant's answers, well, aren't.
You guys are fresh off the ACC Championship and are getting hot at the right time. How confident is this team coming into the NCAA Tournament?
Our team is fairly young. We start a lot of freshmen (anywhere from three to five in a given game) who have never had any NCAA Tournament experience. We had a little bit of a shaky start to the season while we were still feeling around and plugging different players into different parts of the lineup, but once we figured it out we started winning some impressive series, including at North Carolina and against FSU and Miami. I think it was huge that we were able to come out into a tournament situation like the ACC Championship with all of our young guys and pull out some great wins. The team is battle-tested now and hopefully all that momentum and tournament "big game" experience will help us in the regional.
Y'all have four pitchers with over 10 starts and haven't really had a set rotation this season. What gives?
Our pitching staff has had more than its fair share of turmoil this season as far as personnel goes. Two of our returning pitchers, Jonathan King and Cole Pitts, only pitched four times this season because of injuries. We had a senior pitcher get dismissed from the team, and one of our relievers (DeAndre Smelter) left the team as well to focus on football (he plays wide receiver - he's a tremendous athlete). All things considered though, our pitching staff has done a great job this season what with being shorthanded and all. Our order is typically Josh Heddinger on Fridays, Devin Stanton on Saturdays and either Matthew Grimes, Ben Parr or Sam Clay on Sundays. Towards the end of the season we were throwing mostly Parr on Sunday.
How deep is your pitching staff on the back end? How confident are you in your Nos. 3, 4 and 5 guys if it goes that far?
Like I said, our pitchers have done a great job given the hand they were dealt this season. As you can see from our list of Sunday guys, we've got several solid options in the bullpen who have all proven themselves. Parr and Clay are two true freshmen who have really pitched well this season and come up big when we needed them to. They tag-teamed the last two innings of the ACC title game and pitched us out of some tricky situations to win it. I think that performance alone shows a lot about their poise and comfort level with playing in big games. But other than those guys, we've got who I believe to be one of the best relievers in the nation in "Trusty" Dusty Isaacs, and a great set-up man in Jonathan Roberts as well. Dusty is a very versatile pitcher -- he had his first start in over a year the other day against Clemson and one-hit them through five innings. He was named the ACC Tournament MVP and he definitely earned it.
Anybody in the lineup that doesn't particularly stick out but that we should watch out for?
I'm going to have to say a couple of our freshmen, shortstop Connor Justus and right fielder Ryan Peurifoy. Their numbers are solid, but in my opinion, don't do them "justus" [Ed: I see what you did there] as to the impact they've had on this team. Justus has played phenomenal defense this season -- very dependable, doesn't make many errors, and has a great arm. He's also one of the major reasons we lead the nation in double plays. He and senior second baseman Mott Hyde have turned some truly amazing double plays this year, some of which are on YouTube if anybody is curious. They're great athletes and really give us solid defense across the middle infield. With Peurifoy, he's been hot at the plate lately. He went 4-for-4 and scored three of our six runs in our tournament upset of top-seeded Miami. He also has saved us more than a handful of times by tracking down some really well-hit balls in the outfield and making great catches. He's speedy and he's got a good arm.
How big is baseball at Georgia Tech? Is this something the average fan is paying attention to over there?
Of the "big three" sports (football, basketball, and baseball), I'd say baseball has been far and above our most consistently successful program and a lot of our fans know it. We get a pretty good turnout at most of our home games, and in our annual Turner Field matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs, we drew over 21,000 fans -- thank goodness we won. I'd say a good majority of the Tech population that keeps up with our sports programs is aware of our ACC victory and NCAA Tournament berth. The Athletics Association does a really good job with keeping fans informed of how all of the school's teams are doing too. We might not have as many fans as some of the other schools out there, but the ones we do have are as passionate and loyal as they get.
What's your prediction for the regional?
I was a little surprised when we got a 3-seed, if we're being honest here. I thought maybe we had earned a 2-seed based on the way we've been playing lately, especially against ranked opponents. If you cut out the first month or so of the season when we were still moving players around and trying to find the best fit for our freshmen, you'll see we had a pretty good season and some great wins. That's not to say I think we're at an elite level, but I do think we are a little better than our record shows. That being said, I think we will beat Washington on Friday and play you guys close. Ole Miss has had a great season as well and you all definitely earned the honor of hosting a regional. I think it will come down to Georgia Tech and Ole Miss playing to advance, which would be a great matchup and one that I'm really excited to see!
Thanks for having me! It's been real. Best of luck to yall in the regional and hopefully we will get to play each other with our teams healthy and ready to put on a show!