Facing elimination, the Jackets played the Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman for the first time ever in their second game of the 2016 NCAA Baseball Tournament. The Wildcats had reached the regional as #4 seed by winning the MEAC Tournament, but had lost to #1 seed Florida on Friday night 9-3. Either team, to advance beyond the regional, would have to somehow win their next four games.
Tech, having held ace Brandon Gold (8-4, 2.38) for the second game in hopes of being in the winners’ bracket, now had to use him just to survive. Tech started senior Grant Wruble in right field, moving Brandt Stallings to center and replacing Ryan Peurifoy in the batting order. The Wildcats, who went 1-12 versus top 100 RPI teams this year, started German Hernandez (4-5, 5.01).
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Tech batted first as visitors and in their 2nd, the Jackets loaded the bases with one out on singles from Tristin English, Trevor Craport, and Stallings. Wruble next worked an RBI walk, and Pabst grounded into a questionable force play at 2nd, scoring a second run. A Justus groundout ended the frame before the Jackets were able to turn it into a big one. Meanwhile, Gold got out some minor trouble in the first two innings, but his pitch count was up to 43 in the brutal Florida sun. Georgia Tech led 2-0 after two innings.
Doubles by Wade Bailey and Craport added a run to Tech’s lead in their 3rd, ending Hernandez’ day with Alex Seibold coming on in relief.
Gold clearly wasn’t his sharpest, and again allowed two baserunners in the B-C 3rd. A two-out double which scored them both, cutting the lead to 3-2. Hopes of an early exit (preserving his arm for later in the regional) with a big lead for Gold were basically over at that point. He again got in trouble in the B-C 4th, when a trio of two-out singles tied the game 3-3 and put Gold up to 75 pitches. The Wildcats wouldn’t get another run or even another hit from there, as Gold got a second wind.
The Jackets at last got some clutch hitting in their 5th, when two singles and a walk loaded the bases with nobody out for Tristin English, who drove in two runs on a single of his own. A Craport sacrifice bunt them moved runners to 2nd and 3rd with one out. A slumping Kel Johnson then got an RBI of his own with a groundout to extend the lead to 6-3, but the really big inning again eluded the Jackets.
Ryan Peurifoy replaced Wruble in the outfield at center for the 6th, moving Stallings back to right. Thankfully, Gold got his first 1-2-3 inning of the game, requiring only six pitches. Another 1-2-3 inning for Gold got him through the seventh on 106 total pitches.
In Tech’s 7th, Bailey doubled and Matt Gonzalez recorded his 298th career hit, a single. Seibold’s day was done and the Wildcats brought in Ivan Coutinho, who got English to ground into an easy double play. With Bailey perched on third base, Craport struck out to end the inning, continuing a recent theme of the Jackets again stranding a runner at 3rd.
Gold was relieved by Keyton Gibson for the 8th. With one out, Gibson hit a batter, though he was immediately erased as the Jackets got their school record 78th double play.
Back-to-back walks in the Tech 9th ended Coutinho’s day, and the Wildcats brought in Zach Olszewski with two on and no outs. He was greeted with a great bunt for a single by Bailey to load the bases. Gonzalez then drove in two with his 299th career hit (and his 18th in the last 10 games) to make it an 8-3 lead. Tristin English followed that with a three-run bomb to left field to blow the game open. With one out and Craport on 3rd after a double, Coleman Poje pinch hit for Stallings and sacrificed in the run to make it 12-3.
Jared Datoc came into pitch the bottom of the 9th; Coach Hall happy to keep Gibson somewhat rested. Datoc got the Wildcats in order, and the Yellow Jackets lived to fight another day by a final score of 12-3.
Brandon Gold fought through some rare control problems and the noon heat to pitch a really gutsy game. He, Gibson, and Datoc shut down Bethune-Cookman after the 4th inning, and the bats finally woke up for some clutch hitting. Matt Gonzalez continued on his quest to reach Omaha during his career and now only needs one hit to reach 300 career hits.
The team is back at it on Sunday at noon, aiming for redemption with an elimination game against Connecticut. The winner goes on to face Florida at 6:00pm, with a Gator win sending them to the Super Regionals next weekend. A pair of wins on Sunday for Georgia Tech would force a Game 7 in the regional, with a winner-take-all game on Monday against the Gators. A loss in either game on Sunday would eliminate the Yellow Jackets.