The opponents from Athens came to Russ Chandler on Tuesday night as losers of 4 straight to Clemson and Texas A&M. They even made the D1 Baseball "Ouch List" for scoring all of three runs for their entire weekend series in College Station. The Yellow Jackets were coming off a disappointing series tie at Pittsburgh , and both teams would be facing very good conference foes in the weekend ahead. Could the Jackets sting the wounded hounds?
Tech went with fifth-year senior Cole Pitts (Big Country) from Moultrie as their midweek starter. The visitors went with LHP Andrew Gist. After last year's home game against the bulldogs was rained out, 2016 featured ideal weather, surely a relief after freezing in Pittsburgh! Buzz and the Ramblin’ Wreck were there, and Harrison Butker of "The Kick" from 2014 threw the ceremonial first pitch on a beautiful spring evening. Coach Hall went over the ground rules with former protégé Scott Stricklin, and the game was underway.
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After a threat in the top of the third, the scoreless tie was broken by georgia in the top of the 5th, when a two-out double was followed by a triple to left center by Nick King, easily plating the game's first run. A hustle play by Trevor Craport prevented a bunt single and kept the lead at 1-0. georgia's Gist was pitching very well; could the Jackets respond?
The bottom of the inning started with a Kel Johnson single, though Johnson was then erased when he was doubled off on a sharp Tristin English line drive caught by the second baseman. Dueling with Gist, Cole Pitts had pitched well himself, 5 innings of 5 hit, 1 run ball, but trailed. Ben Parr came in to pitch the sixth and created his own trouble with back-to-back one out walks, followed by an RBI single to make it 2-0. Meanwhile, Gist was truly rolling along, facing the minimum number of Yellow Jacket batters through six innings as both Georgia Tech base runners had been erased on double plays.
Burton Dulaney came on to pitch the top of the 7th, when holding the deficit at 2 runs was imperative. In a bizarre play, Joey Bart threw out the speedy Nick King stealing 2nd, only to have the umpires make an incomprehensible call that infuriated Coach Hall (I later learned it was called a balk), awarding the runner 2nd base. King stole 3rd during a walk, and with runners on the corners with one out, georgia threatened to blow the game open. Fortunately, Mr. King had more confidence in his speed than sense, and failed miserably to outrun a Ryan Peurifoy throw from shallow center. It was the Jackets’ nation-leading 46th double play of the season. Gist worked another scoreless inning in the bottom of the 7th, when hard-hit balls by Wade Bailey and Johnson went right at outfielders as the opponents’ good fortune continued. Time was running out quickly.
Micah Carpenter came in to pitch the 8th. He gave up a one-out double, with the runner then scoring on a single despite a strong Peurifoy throw that Bart couldn’t quite grab. The score was now 3-0, with a runner on 3rd after he advanced on the play at home and a wild pitch. A sweet Wade Bailey play at 2nd base got the third out to end the inning and prevent any further damage.
After a two-out single from Bart in the bottom of the 8th saw him stranded, Matthew Gorst came on to pitch the ninth and got out unscathed helped by another great Craport stop and throw.
Ryan Peurifoy led off the ninth with his third hard-hit ball of the game, but nobody could catch this one as it landed over the left field wall for his first home run since May 6, 2015. With Gist’s shutout gone, his day was done as georgia went to the bullpen for the first (and only) time in the game. Closer Blake Cairnes came in for the bulldogs, quickly striking out Bailey, Justus, and Gonzalez to end the game.
It was a very well-played game and Tech just got beat by a superior pitching performance. Several great defensive plays went for naught, as Gonzalez, Bart, and Peurifoy all threw out base runners, while Craport and Bailey both made great infield plays that prevented runs. Tech lost their first game of the season when giving up fewer than 7 runs – and fell out of the top-20 of the RPI, at least for now. My player of the game is Ryan Peurifoy, who accounted for Tech’s only run and prevented an opponent’s run from scoring.
Now to get ready for a weekend series when the Jackets will host red-hot N.C. State, winners of 6 in a row and ranked 14th in the country.