The Jackets, heartbreak at Durham hopefully forgotten, played the opening game of the Gainesville Regional versus AAC Tournament champs Connecticut. The Huskies finished the season 37-23 on a 9-1 run, and their tournament win made the AAC a three-bid conference. Interestingly, both teams elected to keep their #1 starter out of this first game. Instead of Brandon Gold, the Jackets went with Junior Zac Ryan (3-3, 6.13) vs Freshman LHP Tim Cate (4-1, 2.71) for UConn.
|Georgia Tech (36-24)||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||2||2||6||8||0|
The Huskies batted first as visitors, and ran themselves out of the inning by trying to steal on Arden Pabst after a one-out single. Instead, Pabst threw out his 52nd career base stealer. Then in the 2nd, the Huskies loaded the bases with only one out. A single scored two, and – again – control problems were costing the Jackets. A double scored another, still with only one out and runners at 2nd and 3rd. After notching the second out, another single made it 5-0 and the Huskies were fired up. Ben Parr relieved Ryan and gave up back-to-back RBI doubles to make it 7-0; the game quickly getting out-of-reach. After finishing off the 7-run second inning, Parr threw a pair of scoreless innings, with Jake Lee relieving him for the UConn 5th. From there, Lee (4.1 innings) and Matthew Gorst (0.2 innings) would throw a combined 5 innings of scoreless ball, keeping the Huskies from scoring again in the game. Even still, that 7-run deficit was intimidating.
(Worth noting: Gorst got the final two outs on only six pitches, completing 45 total innings for the year having allowed only 2 earned runs for a 0.40 ERA. I note that team press releases have not mentioned a 50 inning minimum - as noted in the 2016 Press Guide - so maybe they intend to change that standard if Gorst never reaches it this year.)
Meanwhile, the Jackets continued their troubling trend of late, struggling at the plate. Georgia Tech didn't manage as much as a base runner until Matt Gonzalez walked with two outs in the 4th inning. They finally got a hit when Trevor Craport doubled with one out in the 5th, but Brandt Stallings and Pabst failed to advance him. The Jackets, with a season average of 6.8 runs per game, were on a three week stretch of failing to score more than 6 – hardly a promising trend.
Tech finally broke through in the 6th, as Gonzalez’s 295th career hit, a double, scored Wade Bailey from 1st with two outs. Nothing further was managed, and it was 7-1 after 6. Tech got their leadoff batter on base for the first time in the game in the bottom of the 7th, as a Tristin English single ended Cate’s fantastic start after 95 pitches, 3 hits, 2 walks, and one earned run (which later became two). RHP Randy Polonia came on in relief and walked Craport. A Stallings grounder moved the runners over and Joey Bart pinch hit for Peurifoy. Bart’s sacrifice fly scored English to make it a 7-2 deficit. Keenan Innis pinch hit for Pabst and drew a walk, and Craport moved to 3rd on a wild pitch. UConn then went to RHP C. J. Dandeneau to face Justus, whom he struck out. (I'm starting to feel like I need a typing shortcut for "the Jackets left a runner at 3rd!")
With time running out, Bailey earned a nine-pitch walk to lead off the 8th. Gonzalez then notched his 296th career hit when he homered deep over the bleachers to left, driving in Bailey to cut the Huskies' lead to 7-4. That would be all for Dandeneau, as closer Patrick Ruotolo came in and quickly retired Kel Johnson, English, and Craport.
Tech’s 9th began with a walk to Stallings. Joey Bart singled to left, bringing up the potential tying run in Keenan Innis. Unfortunately, Innis hit into a double play, putting Stallings on third base with two outs. Justus followed with a single, scoring Stallings to make it 7-5, and once again bringing a potential tying run up in Wade Bailey. He floated a single to left, bringing up Gonzalez with two on and two out. The ever-reliable Gonzo got his 297th career hit with a single to left, driving in Justus and moving Bailey to 3rd. With 2 outs in the ninth, the Jackets had come all the way back to cut a 7-run deficit to a 1-run deficit, with the tying run on third base. You'll understand, then, that it hurts me to say that Johnson then popped up for the game's final out, stranding Bailey at third base! Georgia Tech lost its NCAA Tournament opener 7-6.
I have to think that Zac Ryan had looked good in practice to get the nod over Ben Parr today. It just shows what the coaches have dealt with this year that Ryan pitched his team into a game-losing disaster in the 2nd. The inability to consistently count on pitchers beyond Gold and Gorst has truly been this team's Achilles' heel. But for now, I hate to think how much it hurts the Jackets to have come almost all the way back, only to fall one hit short.
Now, the Jackets will start Brandon Gold when they play Bethune-Cookman in an elimination game at noon Saturday. They will have to somehow win five straight games to advance to the Super Regionals.