OMAHA, Neb. - Given the fact that everyone will be a year older and have a College World Series berth to their credit, it's not fair to say anymore that Georgia Tech is lacking star power.
Kyle Bakker, the 6-foot-9 left-hander, won 13 games this season and pitched eight shutout innings at the College World Series. Freshman second baseman Eric Patterson stole 41 bases, the second most in school history. Right fielder Jeremy Slayden hit 18 home runs to set a Georgia Tech freshman record. Right-handers Chris Goodman and Brian Burks combined to win 18 games.
The players are there. Whether next year's Yellow Jackets will be as good collectively as the 2002 edition remains to be seen.
"I hope that they blend in and play as good as a team as this team played," Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said after South Carolina eliminated the Jackets from the College World Series Tuesday. "I can't say that enough. This team played as good together as any team I ever had."
With the benefit of hindsight, college baseball observers might look back on this year's team and decide that actually, there was some star quality.
Georgia Tech, which set a school record for wins with 52, had six players taken in this month's first-year player draft, including five in the first 18 rounds. Five of those players were juniors, but Hall expects only two to sign - first baseman Jason Perry (sixth round, Toronto) and catcher Tyler Parker (eighth round, St. Louis).
Said Hall: "Those are two very good college baseball players."
The Jackets also are losing the three seniors who provided the leadership following a disappointing 2001 campaign that saw Tech go two-and-out in the Athens Regional. Shortstop Victor Menocal (15th round, Philadelphia) and third baseman Matthew Boggs finished 1-2 in hitting, while Wes Rynders played a sound center field, with no errors in 60 games.
"I think our program's in great shape," Hall said. "We do have some very talented guys coming back. But we lost some quality seniors, not only as players but as people."
With the top four starters back, pitching should be Georgia Tech's strength. In fact, with highly-touted right-hander Jason Neighborgall arriving in the fall, and freshman righty Kyle Schmidt returning, Hall may not have enough innings for everyone.
Expect Schmidt, who pitched only two innings in the NCAA Tournament, to become more of a factor.
"I think he's got number one-type stuff," Hall said.
Hall has two righties in the bullpen who could likely start on most staffs - Jeff Watchko (11-1) and Philip Perry (3-0), both of whom were also drafted.
"We definitely feel like we're going to have a great team next year," said Bakker, the sophomore from Omaha, Neb. "We've got all our pitching back."
Watchko, who went in the 18th round to Pittsburgh, is not sure whether he'll sign or not. But the fact that the Jackets should contend for another trip to Omaha might sway him to return.
"We know what it takes to get here now and that's the big step," Watchko said. "We don't lose too many people and everybody's got that taste in their mouth."
Georgia Tech had to wait eight years between College World Series berths after Hall made it to Omaha in his first season in 1994. With 17 freshman on the 34-man roster, no one expected this year's team of supposed no-names to be the drought-breaker.
Now comes the hard part: getting back.
Reach Joseph Person at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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