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May 25, 2012
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Georgia Tech almost didn’t make the party, but it sure has had fun since it arrived.
The eighth-seeded Yellow Jackets thumped Virginia 17-5 on Friday, which left them as the only unbeaten team in round-robin play in the ACC Baseball Championship.
They play Clemson Saturday at 11 a.m. at NewBridge Bank Park. If the Jackets win, they advance to the title game Sunday.
Tech was the last team to qualify for the tournament, going to the last day of the regular season to get in and entering with a 12-18 record in conference play. But the Jackets weren’t satisfied to merely show up, and they started the proceedings with a 5-4 win over No. 1 seed Florida State on Wednesday.
“All year I thought we had a good team even though the wins weren’t always there,” said left fielder Brandon Thomas. “When we put it all together we’re pretty dangerous. I think we all came up here ready to go and play hard and you’ve seen what has happened.”
Zane Evans, who drove in a career-high six runs, said the closeness of the team has helped.
“I guess no one really expected us to do anything and we came with a lot of enthusiasm and ready to play hard,” Evans said.
Coach Danny Hall doesn’t think the Cinderella label fits his team because he likes the way it is playing.
“We went to the last day f the year not knowing if we were even going to make this tournament,” Hall said, “and I honestly think that has helped us because we’ve had to grind pretty hard from at least the mid-point of the ACC season all the way through. We kind of got off to a rough start, so we knew we had to get going to just stay alive in the ACC.”
In the final weekend series, the Jackets lost the first two games at Miami. But Cole Pitts pitched an outstanding game to win the third one and clinch the tournament berth.
“And then we’ve played two good games here against two outstanding teams in Florida State and Virginia,” Hall said. “It’s a crazy game sometimes but I honestly felt we were playing very good, even though sometimes we were coming up on the short end of the stick win-wise. I thought we were playing good baseball coming in.”
Virginia coach Brian O’Connor agreed with that after his pitchers were tattooed for the most runs they’ve given up in a game this season. He said they left too many pitches up in the strike zone and Tech’s hitters took advantage.
“I’ve always said about their ball club, they’re an offensive team and if you don’t make your pitches against them they’ll make you pay,” O’Connor added. “We didn’t make the pitches that we needed to.”
The Cavaliers looked good early, jumping to a 3-0 lead, but Tech scored six runs in the bottom of the third and four more in the fourth. They put it away with five in the seventh inning. Jake Davies capped the outburst with a three-run homer that invoked the 10-run lead rule and ended the game.
It was the third home run of the tournament for Davies, who has seven RBIs.
Davies had another key hit in the third inning. After Thomas’ single drove in two runs to cut the deficit to 3-2, Davies hit a high fly to right field that Colin Harrington had in his glove but couldn’t hold.
“I had a pretty good jump on it, I thought,” Harrington said, “I jumped at the wall and it actually was in my glove and then it kind of got dislodged as soon as I hit the wall. Tough break. (It) kind of swung the momentum their way. I think if I make that catch it’s an entirely different ball game.”
As it was, what would have been the second out of the inning turned into a double and O’Connor made a pitching change. Nick Howard replaced Scott Silverstein and was greeted by a two-run double by Evans. Mott Hyde hit a two-run homer moments later.
The Cavaliers made a bid to get right back in it when the first two hitters singled in the top of the fourth. But Pitts bore down and retired the heart of Virginia’s order – Stephen Bruno on a fly ball, Derek Fisher on a foul out and John King on a fly out.
“I just tried to focus on throwing strikes,” Pitts said, “not really just overpowering anything, trying to let my defense work and not let any more runs in.”
Pitts lasted five innings, long enough to get the win.
“I thought Cole Pitts settled in,” Hall said, “even though we didn’t play as well behind him defensively as I would like. He got some big outs when we needed it with guys in scoring position and got us through five (innings) and our offense kind of took over from there.”
Tech scored four more times in the fourth to push the lead to 10-3 and settle the issue.
Evans drove in four more runs with a two-run single and two-run homer. Hyde, Thomas and Davies finished with three RBIs each.
“I guess I was just getting good pitches to hit and I wasn’t really missing them,” Evans said. “I know I got some hangers, too. And the fastball I was seeing really well today.”
Now the Jackets are in position to accomplish the second of their goals. Hall said the first goal is always to get into the ACC tournament, although his team usually doesn’t wait until the last game to get that done. The third goal is to make the NCAA tournament, and they have enhanced their chances with their play this week.
“I came into it wanting to win the ACC championship,” Hall said. “I told our team let’s try to play our best, each guy try to play your best, and let’s see where that takes us.”
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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