If you have followed the baseball career of former Greenbrier High School star Jeff Rowland, it should come as no surprise that he has begun his college career at Georgia Tech with base hits and victories.
Those two stats have been a staple of the fleet-footed center fielder. During Rowland's final two seasons of high school baseball, he compiled numbers that rival any player who ever has stepped in a batter's box in Columbia County.
Rowland was the table-setter and defensive dynamo who helped lead Greenbrier to a combined mark of 66-5 and two consecutive Class AAAA state baseball titles. He hit .411 as a junior and improved that mark to .452 in his final season. During those two seasons combined, he also hit 10 homers, drove in more than 100 runs, scored more than 100 runs and stole 74 bases.
Rowland spent a large portion of the past two summers leading the Savannah Chain travel team to back-to-back Barrett Fletcher World Series crowns. The bottom line: The kid can play the game.
So again, it should not be a shock that he has made an immediate impact on the college level. Rowland has been exactly what 22nd-ranked Georgia Tech needed when it signed him last season.
The Jackets needed a replacement for three-year starter Danny Payne in center field. Payne could run, hit for average, hit for power and play defense. Well, Rowland unquestionably could handle three of those four categories. Hitting for power at the college level was perhaps his question mark.
However, after just three exhibition games and four regular-season matchups, Rowland is doing his best to answer the power questions in addition to showcasing the other key tools of a ball player.
Georgia Tech played three intrasquad exhibition games this season. Rowland and his Gold teammates beat the White Squad all three games. Rowland was an impressive 4-for-11 at the plate in those victories.
Particularly impressive was his performance in the final exhibition. Rowland went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, three RBI, a walk and a stolen base. Also, it was his two-run homer in the third inning that broke the game open. Most impressive was the fact that he hit the homer off 6-foot-7, 215-pound freshman Taylor Wood, who is considered one of the top freshman pitching prospects in the ACC.
So as the regular season got underway, Rowland was a no-brainer choice to start in center field. He responded by hitting safely in his first two college games, going 1-for-2 in 14-0 and 1-0 victories against Youngstown State. As Tech closed out a three-game sweep with a 5-1 win over Youngstown, Rowland was 0-for-3, but he bounced back nicely this week against Georgia Southern.
Head coach Danny Hall penciled in Rowland as the leadoff hitter in the series opener with the Eagles. Apparently, being back in that familiar spot in the lineup was good for Rowland. The 5-10, 185-pound freshman blasted a three-run homer in the third inning that helped put the game away as the Jackets won 11-2.
Rowland comes from a baseball family, and most of the family members were on hand for his special moment. As a matter of fact, I was thrilled when I got a phone call from his ultra-proud grandfather to let me know what his grandson had just done. I could hear the excitement in his voice, and it was great to hear the excitement in the background.
Through four games, all Tech wins, Rowland is hitting .300 with a homer and four RBI (second best on the team). He also has been superb defensively, handling all 10 chances in center field without a blemish. There likely will be plenty of great moments in Rowland's college career, but it is good to see he did not waste any time making his presence felt in Atlanta.
Rowland's former Greenbrier teammate, Brandon Cumpton, who also is a freshman at Georgia Tech, will be featured in my column on Wednesday.
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