Bill Hass on the ACC: Georgia Tech Stacks the Deck With McGuire as Friday Starter
April 24, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. - When you're the Friday night starting pitcher for a team in the ACC, you've got to have the right stuff.
And Deck McGuire has had it so far for Georgia Tech.
The ACC plays its conference baseball schedule in 10 series of three games each. A series starts on Friday night and both teams want to set the tone by winning the first game. Consequently, each team usually uses its best pitcher.
"You're going against a good pitcher every time you go out there," said Yellow Jackets coach Danny Hall, "and it's your responsibility to hold up under the pressure that comes with that to give your team a chance."
So far, so good. McGuire has started nine games and posted a 6-0 record with a 2.56 ERA. In ACC play the 6-6 sophomore has started seven games and been the winner four times with three no-decisions.
The Yellow Jackets have three ACC series left, including one that begins today at Clemson. In a season of parity within conference play, Georgia Tech has recorded a 13-5-1 record that is the best in the league. Overall, Tech is 27-9-1, ranked fourth in one poll and seventh in two others.
Although the Jackets will make the ACC Tournament and are likely to receive at least an at-large NCAA bid, there's little room for error.
"I don't think there's a lot of difference between the first-place team and the eighth- or ninth-place teams," Hall said. "I think it comes down to how well you pitch and play."
McGuire has held up his end. Facing the opponent's No. 1 pitcher every week provides an added incentive and a matter of pride, he said, but there's more to it than that.
"You want to get your team off to a good start and put them in position to win the first game," McGuire said. "Then you're only one game away from taking the series. Whether you win the series or sweep, any time you can do that in the ACC is huge."
So what goes into the make-up of a Friday night pitcher?
"Number one, you have to have stuff," Hall said, "and he definitely has stuff. His fastball is up over 90 (miles per hour), he throws a curve, a slider and a change-up. I think what makes Deck so good is he's able to throw all his pitches in any count so it keeps the hitters off-balance.
"I think you have to be a good competitor, and he's definitely that. He's a guy who has stuff and he also likes to compete and that makes him hard to hit."
McGuire will have his work cut out for him when the Yellow Jackets open at Clemson (12-9 in the ACC). How much fun that will be is a matter of perspective.
"No fun," Hall said. "I've been in league 16 years now and they've always been very passionate about Clemson baseball. You're going to have to go in there and handle all the energy and enthusiasm that they're going to have for their team and just do the best you can to come out of there victorious."
McGuire has never pitched at Clemson, but he understands he's in a position to affect how loud the fans get by pitching well.
"I've heard that it's an unbelievable place to play," he said. "We have a chance to go to Athens (to play Georgia) every year and they never disappoint and I heard Clemson is the same way.
"I enjoy pitching on the road. It's a lot of fun and gets you riled up when the fans are rowdy and chewing your ear off. When the fans are loud you know it's not going your way, you've got to settle down and relax a little bit. There's nothing better than being in a road stadium that's silent."
Although he said he tries not to listen to specific things fans say, he might hear something about his unusual name - deck the halls, upper deck, party deck, and so on. His full name is William Deck McGuire.
"It's my mom's maiden name and I guess my parents just decided it would be unique and something different," he said. "They started calling me Deck and I guess it stuck. I did (get kidded) a lot as a kid. It's such an unusual name; sometimes I'd introduce myself as "Deck, like a deck of cards."
McGuire grew up in Richmond, Va., but grew familiar with the Atlanta area when he played there in a wood bat league the summer after his sophomore season in high school. Georgia Tech got in on the recruiting process at an early stage and it helped that the Yellow Jackets signed a good friend of his, outfielder Patrick Long, who's now a junior. The two went to rival high schools but played on the same team for several summers.
"I loved it down here," McGuire said. "The weather is a lot like home but even better, hot most of the year. I love the city; you can't run out of things to do. I loved the school, the team, the atmosphere and the coaching staff. I knew (Long) pretty well and it's cool to go somewhere you know one person going in."
Once he got used to the fact that everyone in a college lineup, one through nine, can hit, McGuire settled in nicely. Georgia Tech had an established weekend rotation, so McGuire became the top mid-week pitcher against non-conference teams last year. He put up an 8-1 record, including two wins over Georgia, with a 3.46 ERA. He was named to a Freshman All-America team.
Going into fall practice, Tech had two weekend spots open and McGuire knew he would be competing for one. Actually, Hall expected him to be the No. 1 starter all along.
"We pretty much knew, after we lost our numbers one and two pitchers from last year, that Deck was the natural guy to assume that role," Hall said. "There never really was any other thought than he was going to be the guy."
If anything, McGuire has gotten even better. In 59 2/3 innings, he has allowed only 46 hits and 25 walks. He leads the ACC with 76 strikeouts and opponents are batting just .219 against him. He has allowed only two home runs.
"That tells you the kind of stuff that he has," Hall said. "Deck's kind of a loosey-goosey guy. He doesn't let too many things shake him up. He's very focused going from Friday to Friday and setting the tone for the whole weekend for our team by pitching well. He has a good time with about everything he does and always looks forward to and is always prepared for his next start."
That takes more effort than people realize. McGuire doesn't play another position or serve as the DH, so he plays in one game a week. Like many pitchers, he believes he could contribute as a hitter. After all, in his senior year at Deep Run High School, he put up a .471 average with five homers and 31 RBI as the DH when he wasn't pitching.
"I mostly miss (hitting) during practice when I have to stand out there for hours and hours and shag balls for everybody else," he said.
McGuire admits that he has "taken a few hacks in the (batting) cage," but he has no plans to approach Hall about hitting in a game.
"You know, I'm pretty positive that Coach Hall is pretty adamant about me being a pitcher only," McGuire said.
That's a small price to pay for doing so well on Friday nights.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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