Chance Huff Emerges As Georgia Tech Ace With Dominant Start
ATLANTA – The setting at Russ Chandler Stadium was everything Georgia Tech could have asked for Friday night. For the first game of their rivalry series against No. 14 Georgia, the Yellow Jackets got a clear, warm night on the first weekend of March and a sold-out ballpark.
No. 19 Georgia Tech took that perfect setting and delivered a banner night, defeating Georgia, 11-7. For much of the game, the Yellow Jackets (9-1) were in total control thanks to an excellent start from righthander Chance Huff and another dominant showing from the lineup, which is averaging 10.7 runs per game.
While Georgia (8-1) scored six runs off the bullpen in the eighth inning to get back into the game, even that didn’t put a dampen on the night for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets simply responded with three eighth-inning runs of their own to push the lead back out and take back the momentum.
It was just the first game of the weekend, but on Friday night Georgia Tech passed its biggest test of the season and – more importantly – got a dominant start from Huff on a big stage.
“I thought Chance Huff was outstanding,” coach Danny Hall said. “I thought he did a great job of settling the game early. It was a good start to the weekend. Probably all the games are going to be like that because I think both teams are really good.”
Georgia Tech has a premium offense and the Yellow Jackets touched up Georgia righthander Jonathan Cannon, a Preseason All-American, for six runs in six innings. It’s an offense that belongs in the conversation as one of the very best in the country and it will keep the Yellow Jackets in most games all season long.
But what Georgia Tech got on the mound from Huff was Friday’s biggest development. The third-year righthander outpitched Cannon and looked like the kind of Friday arm that teams need to make deep postseason runs.
Huff got off to a strong start to the season against Wright State and Gardner-Webb, but Friday was a much bigger challenge for the newly minted No. 1 starter. He delivered seven strong innings, holding Georgia to one run on three hits and two walks. He struck out six batters and aside from a home run from Corey Collins in the fourth inning and two walks in the seventh, he mostly cruised through the Bulldogs’ lineup.
Huff said he was more amped up on the mound for Friday’s game – a result of the opponent and the sell-out crowd.
“It was really cool. Hadn’t gotten to play in front of a big crowd like that since I’ve been in college,” he said. “Being able to take the stage like that, being a starter and everything. It was really cool.”
Huff improved to 2-0, 1.80 and has 24 strikeouts and four walks in 18 innings this season. He’s long had this kind of upside but hadn’t turned his promise into production in his first two years of college. He didn’t make an appearance at Vanderbilt in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He transferred to Georgia Tech before the 2021 season and struggled in the bullpen, especially with his control.
Over the last year, however, Huff has blossomed. He’s harnessed his stuff and has filled up the strike zone this spring. Armed with a fastball that touched 97 mph Friday and consistently hit 94-95 and a hard slider, Huff has the weapons to attack hitters. He also throws a curveball and a changeup, which he mixed in a bit against the Bulldogs.
Huff said a big part of his development was building confidence in scrimmages while facing Georgia Tech’s own sluggers. Being able to compete against some of college baseball’s best helped him hone his mindset.
“Getting to throw to these guys over the fall and preseason and obviously they’re one of the best offenses in the nation and still being able to hold it 4-5 innings gave me a lot of confidence going into the season,” he said.
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In addition to Huff’s improved mindset, he’s also taken a big step forward with his control. Now that he’s throwing all four of his pitches for strikes, he’s ready to lead the Georgia Tech pitching staff.
“I think that’s the biggest change in him,” Hall said. “His fastball is plenty good enough, but he’s got a slider and curveball. He mixed in a few changeups but not many. He’s been in command of all of his pitches, thrown a lot of strikes.”
Georgia’s offense isn’t one of the best in the country, but it’s loaded with experienced, veteran hitters. If Huff can continue to pitch like he did Friday night in ACC play – which starts next week – he’ll be in good shape and Georgia Tech can feel confident on Friday nights.
The rest of the pitching staff is still falling into shape for the Yellow Jackets. Righthander Zach Maxwell slots in behind Huff in the rotation and has pitched well in each of his first two starts. Saturday’s game at Georgia represents a big test for him as well, as he continues his transition from the bullpen to the rotation. Freshman Aeden Finateri has had one good start and one tough one so far and sophomore Marquis Grissom has had mixed results in four appearances (one start).
As the eighth inning showed, when Georgia Tech needed three pitchers to get three outs, the bullpen remains a work in progress. Righthander Joseph Medich, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning, has been a pleasant surprise this season and sophomore Dawson Brown has emerged as a closer.
Georgia Tech will need to find a few more pieces to round out the staff. Its lineup will give it time to do so, as it did Friday, when it responded to Georgia’s comeback attempt with three more insurance runs.
For now, however, Georgia Tech can say it has a Friday starter. Huff declared that with authority in the Yellow Jackets’ biggest game of the young season.