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May 28, 2012
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – For a moment there Sunday, Zane Evans wasn’t sure he would get to enjoy Georgia Tech’s ACC Baseball Championship.
After second baseman Thomas Smith fielded a ground ball and threw to first baseman Jake Davies for the final out of the Yellow Jackets’ 8-5 win over Miami, the rush was on. And the first guy to the mound, where Evans was standing, was the 225-pound Davies, followed by a horde of teammates. Evans was quickly obliterated.
“I was on the very bottom of the pile and my face was buried in the grass,” Evans said. “I thought I was going to suffocate but I found a little hole. I was freaking out.”
Evans extricated himself from the scene and began wiping his face and spitting out grass before he could join in the celebration.
You couldn’t blame his teammates. The Jackets came into the event unheralded and won all four games they played in NewBridge Bank Park, becoming the first No. 8 seed to win it all.
“We got timely hits when we needed them, we made plays when we needed to, we made pitches when we needed to, got contributions from everybody and things just clicked,” said coach Danny Hall. “It was our best baseball of the year to go 4-0, and to go through the teams we went through to win it, you have to be clicking on all cylinders.”
A big reason for their success was the way the Jackets hit the stitches off the baseball all week. They finished with a .329 team average, 13 doubles and seven home runs. Davies, voted the Most Valuable Player, had four homers and 11 RBIs and Evans added 10 RBIs. Shortstop Mott Hyde hit two homers and drove in six runs and outfielder Brandon Thomas scored eight runs.
Tech scored four times in the top of the first inning and eventually stretched the lead to 6-1 before Miami pecked away and cut it to 6-5. But Evans hit a two-run, two-out single against Adam Sargent in the seventh to give the Jackets some breathing room.
“The first pitch he threw me was a fastball up and I took a hack at it, tried to hit it out,” Evans said. “Coach Hall told me to slow it down a little bit. I got a changeup and I don’t think it was going to be a strike but I just poked it out to center field.
“I knew we needed some more runs and once I got that hit I could tell our dugout was really picked up and we were all a lot more confident going into the next inning.”
As well as Tech swung the bats, its pitching deserves a lot of credit. Hall lost four pitchers to injuries early in the season – Josh Bard, Matthew Grimes, DeAndre Smelter and Devin Stanton – and had to mix and match from there, using a lot of position players on the mound.
“We had four quality guys go down,” Hall said. “It put us in a tailspin and it maybe took me a little while just to figure out what we needed to do pitching-wise.”
He finally decided to move Davies into the rotation and that paid off during the championship when the left-hander started and beat Clemson to move the Jackets into the title game.
On Sunday, after starter Josh Heddinger faltered, former outfielder Jarrett Didrick pitched four innings and allowed two runs. Then Evans, the regular catcher and occasional DH, got a three-inning save by retiring all nine hitters he faced. It was his sixth save of the season.
Hall had Buck Farmer, who started and won the Jackets’ first game on Wednesday, ready for the ninth inning if needed. That allowed Hall to put Evans in the game in the seventh inning and he finished it out.
“And he dominated the game,” Hall said. “You could just feel the air go out of their dugout once Zane started throwing.”
Evans had gotten the save in Tech’s most important game of the year, a 2-1 win over Miami on the last day of the regular season. That victory put the Jackets in the championship field. He had a similar approach this game.
“Mainly it was just working my fastball in and out,” Evans said. “That’s what I did against them when we beat them at our place. The slider has been my out pitch and I kind of lost it (during the season) so I was trying to have that as my out pitch again today and it was working really well for me.”
Miami was the No. 6 seed and lost its first game to NC State, then beat North Carolina and Wake Forest and had an agonizing wait Saturday night. When the Tar Heels finally beat State in the 12th inning, the Hurricanes moved into Sunday’s game.
Once there, they just didn’t play well enough to win it.
“They out-hit us, out-pitched us and out-played us,” said coach Jim Morris.
But the Canes got some salve for their wounds when they heard that they had been selected to host one of the 16 NCAA regionals starting later this week.
“We’re kind of down right now because we just lost the ACC Championship,” said outfielder Chantz Mack, “but that (news is) giving us momentum because we know that we’re at home. There’s a lot of tradition in that ball park and we’re going to be very confident there.”
Teammate Brad Fieger said the Hurricanes are a better team finishing the event than they were coming in.
“We started to hit the ball the last couple of games and we beat a couple of good teams,” he said. “We’re just starting our momentum and hopefully we can carry this into the regionals.”
Georgia Tech knew it needed a couple of wins just to make the NCAA tournament. As ACC champions, the Jackets earned an automatic berth. Now they will be looking to carry over some of the magic of the past five days.
“I really didn’t think there was a chance,” Evans said, “but we came here and had the mindset just go out there and have fun. No one was expecting us to do anything so we just had a fun time and we battled as a team and it really helped.”
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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