It was far from a perfect week for Georgia Tech as they split this week's games, losing to Mercer, but beating Georgia State.
The struggling Jackets split the season series with the Mercer Bears by losing 9-8 at home on Tuesday night. The loss ended a five game home stand that saw the team go 1 and 4. Tech is now 12-12 following the best in the nation 12-0 start. How long ago that seems! The loss dropped the Jackets to #30 in the current RPI's, getting dangerously close to "bubble" territory for the NCAA's.
Once again the problem is pitching. As I have noted, Tech only has two somewhat reliable starters, Brandon Gold and Cole Pitts. That won't see a team through 4 or 5 game weeks and Coach Hall and Pitching Coach Howell have been desperately seeking one or more starters among the bullpen staff.Last night was Freshman Micah Carpenter's turn, and he ran into immediate trouble in the top of the first by walking the first two batters and faced Bear slugger Kyle Lewis with his .430+ batting average and 15 home runs.Carpenter struck him out, then walked the bases loaded before escaping with a timely 6-4-3 double play. Carpenter repeated the danger in the top of the 2nd with a single, another walk, then making an error on a bunt to load the bases with no outs. Again he escaped with a pop foul, strike out, and long fly ball tracked down by LF Grant Wruble.
The Jackets struck in the bottom of the 2nd with a Kel Johnson double, a Joey Bart RBI single. Then Trevor Craport and Arden Pabst both singled to score Bart and Tech led 2-0.
Playing with fire caught up with Carpenter in the top of the 3rd, however, when a leadoff solo home by Charlie Madden run was followed by a double, two more walks, and then a grand slam by Notre Dame transfer Blaze Lezynski off Tech reliever Burton Dulaney. The 2-0 lead was quickly a 5-2 deficit. The Jackets quickly struck back in the bottom of the 3rd with singles by Gonzalez and Johnson followed by Tristin English's team leading 15th double to make it 5-3. Bear reliever Nick Spear was greeted by a Craport 2 RBI single and we were tied. The teams traded 1-2-3 innings in the 4th inning.
Tech took a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the 5th with another RBI from Craport driving in Kel Johnson. If the left fielder for Mercer hadn't made a great play on a Gonzalez drive to lead off the inning, Tech could have done much more damage.
In the top of the 6th, new Tech pitcher Zac Ryan was totally ineffective, quickly giving up 4 runs, the last on back-to-back wild pitches! It's sad to say that Ryan has been the biggest disappointment of the year, going from a very good closer last year to an effective starter for a while this year to a completely ineffective pitcher in any situation. Having him come back strong would be so
Tech would make it interesting in the bottom of the 6th with two runs, but could come no closer. Mercer submarine pitcher Conard Broom came into pitch 4 innings of 1 hit baseball to earn his 3rd save. Freshman Bailey Combs continued as Tech's only active 0.00 ERA pitcher with 3 scoreless innings, and the Jackets would threaten in the 9th but leave the tying and winning runs on base. Trevor Craport with his 4 for 4 and 3 RBI night is Tech's player of the game. Unfortunately, despite out hitting Mercer 12 to 10, Tech could not overcome 11 walks, 4 wild pitches, and a hit batsman. Not many teams can overcome giving up that many free passes.
The Yellow Jackets had beaten the Panthers rather handily 11-6 back on March 1st, the 8th of 12 wins to start the season. Since then Tech is only 16-12, while State has been 11-16 since and is 16-19 overall. State is coming off a series loss at Louisiana-Monroe, a team itself with a losing record. The Panthers RPI is a bad 218; needless to say the Yellow Jackets - fresh off a deflating home loss to Mercer - could ill afford another loss. I completely support playing our in-state opponents, but a team with a very bad RPI can only hurt you. I note that for some reason uga does not play Ga State this year.
The Jackets sent another Freshman, RHP Jake Lee, to the mound for his first career start. There is opportunity there for a guy who can grab it. State sent lefty Devin Vainer.
Tech grabbed a quick lead in the top of the 1st with RBI by Gonzalez and Bart, was answered by State with 1 in the bottom, and regained a two run lead via a Justus solo home run with 2 outs.
Justus has been extremely effective in reaching base since taking over leading off from Bailey, with an OBP well over .500.
The Jackets kept it up in the 3rd with a Bart RBI groundout after Gonzalez and Johnson reached. The offense wanted plenty of insurance, having watched Jacket pitching trouble first hand.
State proved the point in the bottom of the 3rd, scoring a runner who had walked to lead off. 4-2 Jackets after 3.
Clayton Payne came in to pitch for State after Vainer walked Coleman Poje and Justus to lead off the 4th. After an error put Bailey on, Matt Gonzalez drove in Poje with a single and left them loaded for Kel. He reached on a fielder's choice error throw to home, scoring Connor Justus and leaving them loaded for Joey Bart. After Joey struck out, Trevor Craport continued his hot hitting, driving in Bailey with a single and leaving them loaded for Brandt Stallings. Stallings drove in Gonzo with a deep fly out. The Jackets led 8-2 after 3 1/2 innings.
Neither team scored in the next 1 1/2 innings, and Jake Lee seemed to be getting stronger, setting the Panthers down 1-2-3 in the 5th to become eligible for a win if Tech could hold on.
Ben Parr came in for the Panther 6th, and I have no doubt that Coaches Hall and Howell were very happy with Jake Lee's outing. We may see him in six days in Athens, I suspect. As noted by the WREK crew, Ben has many more innings vs Ga State than any other Jacket pitcher. His 1-2-3 inning emphasized the point.
Wade Bailey padded Tech's lead in the 7th with a sacrifice fly scoring Stallings. The Panthers got two back in the bottom, aided by old Tech bugaboos hit batsmen and errors, but the Jackets 57th double play stopped further damage. 9-4 Tech. Ryan Peurifoy had a big two out 2 RBI hit in the 8th to get those runs right back, however.
Keyton Gibson came in to pitch the 8th and wasn't done any favors by Wade Bailey, who committed his second error of the game, allowing a runner to reach 2nd on a dropped pop up.
He quickly scored on a double off the wall. Gibson was up to the challenge, as he quickly ended the inning with 2 strikeouts and a ground out. 11-5 Tech. The ninth was scoreless for both teams, the game appropriately ending on Tech's 57th double play batted into by Panther slugger Joey Roach, who finished 0 for 4.
So, Tech swept the season series over Ga State, split the two midweek games this week, and may have found another starting pitcher. The pitching was certainly much better than the Mercer game, with 2 walks vs 11. Only time will tell regarding Jake Lee. The errors must stop if the Jackets hope to make a Regional and advance beyond. On to Clemson!