With Georgia Tech set to host ACC foe N.C. State this weekend, the Wolfpack came in on a hot streak, having won six straight and 8 out of 10. The Jackets were on a two-game losing streak, including a midweek loss to arch-rivals uga. The Jackets’ problem boils down to pitching, with only one true weekend starter – Brandon Gold – and unknown arm ailments benching original weekend starters Jonathan King and Jonathan Hughes. Zac Ryan had been converted to starter from closer with mixed and deteriorating results. This weekend, Gold was followed by Burton Dulaney making his first career start on Saturday, and Cole Pitts stepping in to make the start on Sunday.
|#12 NC State (25-9, 9-5)||0||0||0||0||3||1||0||0||4||8||12||0|
|#19 Georgia Tech (23-10, 7-8)||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||3||6||3|
Friday’s game started well -- Georgia Tech scored a run in both the 2nd and 3rd innings, and looked ready to put Wolfpack starter Cory Wilder in deep trouble. But, strike outs by Matt Gonzalez and Kel Johnson – the Jackets' big bats – ended the third inning, stranding two runners in scoring position and basically ending any good news for the Jackets in the game.
NC State’s comeback began innocently enough with a leadoff walk on a 3-2 count in the 5th. From there, back-to-back doubles down the 3rd base line tied the game at 2, and a Wade Bailey error led to a third run scoring. NCSU led 3-2 after 5 innings, and added a run in the 6th with another pair of back-to-back doubles to lead 4-2.
Tech was able to make it a one-run game in the eighth inning on an Arden Pabst single followed by a sweet hit-and-run single by Bailey to give the Jackets runners on the corners with no outs. A Connor Justus fielder’s choice scored Pabst and had Georgia Tech looking ready for a comeback with Gonzalez at the plate, one out, and Justus on 1st. A hard liner to shortstop on an attempted hit-and-run led to a double play that snuffed out the inning.
Micah Carpenter came in to pitch the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, and got through 2.2 innings before the wheels came off with the Wolfpack down to their last out. NC State managed four unearned runs after having two outs with nobody on base in the top of the ninth, blowing the game open. The Jackets couldn’t mount anything in the bottom of the ninth, and the series was off to a poor start with an 8-3 loss. Tech did turn four double plays to raise their nation-leading total to 49, but it was a hollow accomplishment.
|#12 NC State (26-9, 10-5)||3||5||1||0||1||3||0||1||0||15||17||1|
|#19 Georgia Tech (23-11, 7-9)||0||0||0||0||2||3||1||0||0||6||9||2|
The Saturday game started out poorly and never recovered. Freshman Burton Dulaney got his first career start and was ineffective, giving up 3 runs in the 1st and quickly running into trouble in the 2nd before he was pulled for Zac Ryan. Ryan was no more effective and the Jackets trailed 8-0 after the 2nd inning, and eventually 10-0 after the top of the fifth inning. For the rest of the game, Coach Hall basically held a pitching audition, bringing in a new arm each inning with mixed results. The Jackets' bats finally woke up a little and the team managed to put 6 runs on the scoreboard off of Wolfpack starter Brian Brown in the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings, before reliever Chris Williams came in and pitched the final three innings scoreless ball to close it out for the Wolfpack, who clinched a fourth straight season series victory over Georgia Tech with the 15-6 blowout win. Brandt Stallings' three run HR was the only highlight for the Jackets, along with the team’s nation-leading 50th double play. The Jackets' loss was their 4th in a row.
|#12 NC State (26-10, 10-6)||0||0||0||5||0||0||2||0||0||7||9||1|
|#19 Georgia Tech (24-11, 8-9)||0||0||4||0||1||6||0||5||X||16||16||1|
The Jackets aimed to avoid a sweep and salvage a victory on another beautiful spring day at America’s best baseball field. Cole Pitts was going five days after pitching 5 innings in a losing effort against uga, although the loss was mainly due to a lack of run support.
Pitts got in a bit of trouble right off the bat in the 1st inning by walking and hitting a batter, but would escape unscathed. The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the 3rd, when Kel Johnson hit a bases-clearing double to make it a 3-0 Jacket lead. A Joey Bart single scored Johnson to make it 4-0, but no Jacket fan felt comfortable with even a 4-run lead.
We were quickly proven right in our discomfort when NC State answered with back-to-back home runs in the top of the 4th – the first one being a towering grand slam. All of a sudden, a 4-run lead was a 1-run deficit!
Ben Parr came in to pitch a scoreless 5th, and in the bottom of the inning Tristin English hit his first HR as a Yellow Jacket – a line drive over the 359’ sign in left field. The game was tied 5-5. In the bottom of the 6th, Gonzalez drive in Justus with a single to give the Jackets a lead they would not again surrender. Tech wasn’t finished in the inning, as a 2-out Kel Johnson pop-up behind 2nd base was lost in the brilliant sun and dropped in, scoring 2 to make it 8-5. An English double (his team-leading 14th) stretched the lead to 9-5. Georgia Tech added two more when the Wolfpack center fielder dropped a line drive, pushing the lead to 11-5, as the Wolfpack were having trouble.
NC State, always dangerous on offense, got 2 back in the top of the 7th to make it 11-7, before Coach Hall went with closer Matthew Gorst a little earlier than he probably intended. Danny Hall wanted this game badly!
Tech made it seem safe in the bottom of the 8th with a Brandt Stallings 3-run homer to the deepest part of center field, and then Justus drove in Ryan Peurifoy and Grant Wruble for the final score of 16-7. The game ended rather bizarrely when an NC State base runner tried to score from 3rd on a shallow pop-up caught by Kel Johnson. He was gunned down at home for Tech’s 51st double play of the year. I make Kel Johnson my player of the game with his 5 RBI and outfield assist, but there were many heroes.
I want to emphasize how important this victory was at the end of a quite bad week. It was crucial both in the ACC standings (where 8-9 is clearly far better than 7-10) and psychologically for the team. NC State was going for their 6th straight victory at our ballpark, and for the Jacket players to have to shake hands and say "nice game" after that would have been crushing, I think. The team is in a much better place as they go into a week of hosting Mercer, visiting Panthersville to play Georgia State, and going to always difficult Clemson for a big weekend.
Only the 10 best ACC records make the conference tournament, and the once-hot Yellow Jackets now find themselves in somewhat hot water. At 8-9, Georgia Tech is tied with Pittsburgh for fourth in the Coastal division, and tied for eighth overall in the conference with several tough series remaining.