ATLANTA, GEORGIA — The ides of sports did yours truly a favor this week, given that I am currently knee deep in moving across town. There is a lot of good to be had in making a move - better value, the excitement of the new - but a lot of annoying things, like hard-to-find address changes. That being said, in the meantime, the sports world kept turning, despite being in the middle of finals season on the Flats.
As a programming note, the men’s and women’s tennis championship draws will be announced at 6:00 and 6:30 PM today on NCAA.com, with the individual draws to follow via release on Tuesday.
Be sure to check back on the site homepage later today or tomorrow for the recap of Tech’s series win over #3 Maimi on the baseball diamond because, let me warn you now, it was a tough - though not necessarily all negative - week for the rest of the teams in this column. Let’s dive in.
Overall: 36-15 | Last Week: 0-3
Clemson - [L] 4-1: On a comfortable Friday evening, the Jackets had a relatively productive game in Clemson, despite the final score. Though the two teams had been slated to play in 2020 before the pandemic cancelled the rest of the season and 2021 had brought the Tigers to Atlanta and matched the two teams up in the ACC Tournament in Louisville, this weekend marked the first time the two sides of what is on of the conference’s most logical softball rivalries would square off on the shores of Lake Hartwell.
In the circle, Chandler Dennis matched up against Clemson’s Millie Thompson, one of several three sub-2.00 ERA pitchers for the Tigers. Thompson slots in as the number two option for Clemson in the circle, however both she and Regan Spencer top their own ace in ERA and opponent batting average. It is a tall order for any team to match up against a team that can deploy three ruthlessly effective players of that caliber, to say the least.
Though Tech would manage to take a lead in the top of the first on the always-effective combination of Emma Kauf and Tricia Awald at the top of the lineup, the Tigers took the lead right back in the bottom of the frame as McKenzie Clark put a ball in just the right spot to be a two run home run. That would have been enough for the home team, as Tech was effective at the plate but couldn’t string runs together, but Clemson’s Valerie Cagle, whom we on the podcast have taken to referring to as “The Franchise,” given her status as an extremely effective two way player that the entire program was essentially built around, sent a ball halfway to Hartwell in right before a final insurance run iced the game and the day for Clemson. Lexi Ray, for her part, threw three scoreless innings in relief to give Tech a chance to hang around.
Clemson - [L] 3-0: Tech was a Jin Sileo single away from being no-hit on Saturday with who else but Cagle, the Franchise, in the circle for the Tigers. Blake Neleman, for her part, did exactly what Tech needed her to do to give them a chance to win, but it just wasn’t enough, with only two baserunners even being yielded by Cagle.
Clemson - [L] 3-2 (8): Tech remains winless all time against Clemson, though their regular season matchups sure do not bely a team that has been totally dominant by any means. Much like last year’s series, all the games were relatively tightly contested and made for what I can only assume was great television. However, this remains but an assumption given that two of the three games this weekend were on Bally Sports South. I think that it is absolutely tremendous that softball, alongside baseball, women’s basketball, and volleyball, have been receiving more slots on over-the-air television, rather than being limited to streaming on ACC Network Extra. Of course, given the rather niche audience of this column, readers here likely would tune in to a decent chunk of games regardless like I personally do, but the ACC Network, the ESPN family, and Regional Sports Network distribution are great for getting the game accessible to fans via television, casual onlookers in search of entertainment, or on in a bar or gathering place and growing the games and their exposure.
However, locking most of Atlanta’s sporting distribution — the Braves, the Hawks, Atlanta United, and a sizable chunk of Tech’s football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, and baseball — behind the inscrutable byzantine bureaucratic blackout restrictions is egregious. There quite literally is no reasonable way for the majority of fans to access this content through normal channels, and with sports like softball and volleyball, the games sent to RSNs are nearly always the most pivotal and in-demand contests. Thus, the broadcaster loses, leaving interested viewers off its distribution, programming, and advertising; the team and its fans lose, leaving them unable to stay connected with each other, follow along, and be engaged with one another; and the sport as a whole loses, given it is nigh impossible to “grow the game” when it is locked behind an insurmountable wall.
It has been two years, two months, and three days since Sinclair left YouTube TV, but, even in the odd case that Sinclair had somehow held on to distributing on my platform of choice, there would still be cause to be upset, given that there really isn’t anywhere else to reasonably and affordably turn that does have RSNs. There is one option, DirecTV Stream, it starts at $90 a month, and even despite paying for ESPN+, there is no way around the blackout to get to ACCNX. It is egregious, and one cannot possibly say that anyone is in good faith here. All that’s left, as is in most everything these days, it seems, is a web of corporate avarice and betrayal of its customer base.
Of course, the truest shame in all of this is that, by all means, this game was fantastic. It was everything you want in a sporting event, softball or not. There was great pitching and defense, timely hitting, a comeback and extra inning drama. Dennis once again got the start for Tech, yielding two runs, one earned, before Ray once again came in for a spotless relief effort. Clemson got on the board first with one big hit for two runs before Tech was able to tie the game off of a Bailee Zeitler RBI single and a Kennedy Cowden sacrifice fly. The score would stay knotted at 2 into extras when Clemson’s Maddie Moore knocked in the winning run, sending Tech home at the wrong end of a sweep, but a hard-fought one that certainly had its positive threads, too.
As we noted in last week’s edition, Tech was still in action in Panama City Beach when the column went to print. The events that ensued in the final of the match play leg was ridiculously dramatic, and some of the most compelling golf I’ve had the privilege to follow. Christo Lamprecht and Bartley Forrester would push across points for Tech, both of which came in impressive fashion, with Lamprecht ahead 5 holes with 4 to play and Forrester up 4 with 2 to play, ending the points short of the 18th green. Wake Forest earned their first point by winning on 18 twice, setting up a do-or-die finale for the final pair in competition, via Tech’s Benjamin Reuter.
Reuter did not lead the entire length of the match, and indeed trailed by as many as 2 with 5 to play. However, strong play down the stretched tied the match on 17, and there it stood as Reuter, a freshman, took Alex Fitzpatrick, a senior, All-American, and by all means one of the best amateurs on the planet, to the limit. In the end, they played three extra holes before Reuter had the opportunity to sink improbable and challenging - but championship-winning - putts on the first two holes, but held serve by going up and down, before a tough drive put him off schedule on the third playoff hole.
Heading into the weekend, Tech and Wake were tied atop the ACC Table of Titles, and with Tech narrowly missing what would have been their 19th ACC Golf Championship, Wake’s first title since 1989 kept Tech from surpassing them outright for at least a few more years. It is, however, worth noting that 17 of Tech’s 18 titles have come since that last 1989 championship from the Demon Deacons.
Tech now awaits their placement in the NCAA Tournament field, where they will certainly play on into the postseason given their incredible showing so far this year, good for 11th best in the country thus far.
Track and Field
Track split their squad this weekend, with some heading to Philadelphia for the venerable Penn Relays, while others made their way to Athens for the Torrin Lawrence Memorial. Yet again, Nicole Fegans led the way for the women in the distance events at Franklin Field, with her 5000m showing good for second place in the event. Ten other athletes competed in the first events of the weekend on Friday, while Saturday and Sunday’s main stories from Penn featured two relays, with the first being the women’s distance medley relay of Claire Moritz, Haley Unthank, Riley Perlakowski and Fegans, and the second being the 4 by 800 meter relay of Perlakowski, Unthank, Allie Walker and Kayla Rose.
In Athens, the Jackets were led first by Lydia Troupe, who was the top attached athlete in the 400m hurdles, while two more Tech women finished in the top five of the high jump. Olivia Moore once again turned in an impressive showing in the pole vault, as she was able to clear the field by two marks on her way to a 4.25m vault. In the 4 by 100 meter relay, Sheleah Harris, Taylor Grimes, Anna Witherspoon and Chloe Davis finished second with a time of 45.71, while Grimes and Davis followed those up with individual top five finishes, as well. Rounding everything off, John Watkins was in podium position among attached collegiate athletes in the men’s long jump.
Tech is next in action on May 12th for the opening of the ACC Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Durham.
5/6-8: at Clemson
5/6-8: NCAA Tournament First and Second Rounds (TBD)
5/6-8: NCAA Tournament First and Second Rounds (TBD)