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Baseball: Yellow Jackets Drop 2 of 3 to Duke in Durham

It took some Sunday heroics from Jake Lee to avoid the sweep.

Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Tech and Duke started the series tied for 9th in the ACC with 9-15 records, fractionally ahead of Notre Dame and one full game ahead of Pitt and VPI. In their previous games, the Jackets swept Pitt then lost to uga while Duke took the weekend off before splitting two midweek games versus Campbell and ECU. Each will have only one ACC weekend after this, Tech hosting UVA and Duke at UNC.

Friday: Duke 7, Georgia Tech 5

The game was moved up to 4 PM due to weather. Xzavion Curry (5-4, 5.26) pitched for Tech against left handed junior Mitch Stallings (4-3, 3.88). Joey Bart missed his third straight game due to a thumb injury sustained last Sunday in practice.

Both teams stranded runners in scoring position in the 1st. Curry worked hard to survive a leadoff double with three straight strikeouts after the runner moved to third base on a wild pitch. Duke again doubled to lead off the 2nd, and this one scored from third base on a caught foul ball. Curry did avoid the big inning, as Duke loaded the bases twice.

Curry walked the first two batters in the 3rd, putting himself in constant trouble, but he again wiggled off the hook with a pop up and groundball double play. Duke led 1-0 after three.

Brandt Stallings hit a line drive over the left field wall after a Murray single to give Tech a 2-1 lead in the top of the 4th. Curry responded with a shutdown inning.

Duke regained the lead on three singles in their 5th, the third one a two RBI blooper between second base and center field. They added another in their 6th on two singles and a bunt. Duke led 4-2, and Curry was relieved by Datoc with two outs and one on in the 6th. Datoc got out of the inning easily when McCann threw out the base runner trying to steal – his second straight inning ending throw down.

The Jackets loaded the bases with a walk and two infield hits in their 7th, bringing up Peurifoy. He picked up an RBI sacrifice fly to make it 4-3. Next, Johnson tied it with a two out RBI single, ending Stallings day on the mound – and his chance for a win. Nick Hendrix came in to face Poje, and threw a wild pitch that scored Craport from third to take the lead. Hendrix is a graduate student who leads the nation in pitching appearances. He got Poje to fly out, but Tech led 5-4.

Datoc retired the first two in the Duke 7th, but then issued a walk and two run home run by Taylor to give the lead back to Duke, 6-5. Labowski moved from 3rd to the mound in relief for the Tech 8th and retired the Jackets with only ten pitches.

Micah Carpenter relieved Datoc for the bottom of the 8th and hit the first batter. He quickly went to second on a bunt and scored on a double to make it 7-5, with Tech coming up for their last chance. They got runners on the corners, but Johnson struck out to end the game. Datoc got the loss, Hendrix the win, Labowski the save. Five of Duke’s runs came with two outs.

Saturday: Duke 12, Georgia Tech 5

Keyton Gibson (2-2, 6.00) went against right handed junior Ryan Day (3-3, 2.76).

The Jackets missed a chance to do serious damage in the 1st, loading the bases and scoring a run with nobody out on three singles and a walk. Then, disastrously, Johnson hit a 1-2-3 comeback double play to the mound, and Poje hit a fly ball for out three to give the Blue Devils a huge lift. They took full advantage, loading the bases themselves on a hit and two walks after an out. But, happily, Tech turned their own rare 1-2-3 double play to end the inning, leading 1-0.

After the Jackets stranded base runners at 2nd and 3rd in the top of the second, Gibson got the Devils in order, getting the second out with a nice play fielding a high bouncer. The Jackets finally struck in their 3rd, when Murray tripled in Peurifoy and Johnson. Poje then drove in Murray with a ground ball out to give Tech a 4-0 lead. The third baseman probably could have gotten Murray, but didn't try.

Gibson struggled with control, and walked the first two batters in the bottom of the 3rd, before coaxing a 6-3 double play, but then throwing a wild pitch to give Duke their first run. I hate to think how many wild pitch runs Tech has surrendered this year.

Gibson appeared to be cruising, but issued a walk and RBI double after two outs in the bottom of the 5th, making it 4-2. In a familiar pattern, both of Duke’s runs thus far were with two outs.

Day exited the game after giving up a leadoff triple to Poje in the 6th. He was relieved by left hander Chris McGrath with one out. After McCann walked, Bailey drove in Poje with a sacrifice fly to restore the lead to three runs. But, Duke answered loudly in the bottom of the inning, with a double and RBI single after one out. When Gibson hit the next batter, he was relieved by Connor Thomas with runners on 1st and 2nd, the 5-3 lead in jeopardy. Thomas walked the first batter he faced to load the bases, then gave up a base clearing triple to the nine hole batter, making it suddenly 6-5. A sacrifice fly scored the 7th run, Tech suffering the dreaded “big inning” that has hurt them all year. The Jackets went down quietly in the 7th.

After Thomas got out one on a deep fly ball, Bailey Combs relieved him in the Duke 7th. Combs had been unavailable Friday after suffering an allergic reaction to something. The Devils loaded the bases with two outs with a couple of singles and a walk, leading to his relief by Zac Ryan. He gave up a hard grounder that Wilhite stopped with a dive, but threw away trying to get an out. Two runs scored, making it a daunting 9-5. They weren't done, as nine-hole hitter Proctor picked up his fourth RBI with a single, making it 10-5. All three runs were after two outs.

Nick Hendrix came in the pitch to Tech in the 8th and retired the Jackets easily. For the Jackets, Garrett Gooden, a hard throwing prospect who has struggled with control this year, came in to pitch. He walked the first two and they moved to 2nd and 3rd on a sacrifice fly, then got out two on a pop up before another two out hit made it 12-5. The Jacket relievers were completely ineffective today.

The game ended with the Jackets going quietly in the 9th. Thomas got the loss, McGrath the win. This was an especially discouraging loss, giving up a four run lead to lose badly. Tech would have to try and salvage a win Sunday, still in the ACC tournament, but barely.

Sunday: Georgia Tech 5, Duke 3

Jake Lee (3-2, 6.30) pitched versus freshman left hander Adam Laskey (4-3, 6.60).

The Jackets grabbed the lead on back-to-back doubles by Murray and Stallings after two outs in their 2nd. In the bottom of the inning, Kel Johnson made a diving stop for out three to bail out Wilhite's error on a possible double play ball. But Kel hurt himself on the dive and Xzavion Curry pinch hit for him in the 3rd. Poje replaced Johnson at 1st and Nick Wilhite replaced Coleman in right field.

In the bottom of the 3rd, Tech’s infield sorely tested Jake Lee, when both Poje and Craport made errors on potential third outs, leading to a bases loaded situation. But Lee rose to the occasion and struck out the next batter.

In the 4th, Chase Murray was hurt colliding with the first baseman, but stayed in the game. In their 5th, Tech stranded their fifth base runner in scoring position, the picture of futility. But Lee was doing all he could, getting easily through the bottom of the inning. Duke got their first hit off Jake in the bottom of the inning, a two out double. Wilhite then made Tech’s fourth error on a grounder, putting runners on the corners. Duke pulled a double steal to score the tying run – unearned - before the tag could be applied at 2nd.

The tie only lasted two pitches, as Kyle McCann hit the scoreboard in right field to restore the one run lead. That ended Laskey’s outing, and he was relieved by Kevin Lewallyn, a left handed senior. After he walked Bailey, Craport doubled him in to make it 3-1. Craport was then stranded at third.

In the Duke 7th, Max Miller hit his first home run of the year to leadoff, followed by a double to right. That runner was singled in to tie it up at three. Tech then made their fifth error on a pickoff attempt by Lee, but it didn't result in further damage.

Duke went to the bullpen again with one out with James Ziemba. He got one out before issuing two walks and was relieved by Nick Hendrix, who pitched in all three games. He retired Bailey, Tech stranding another runner in scoring position.

Labowski moved over from third to pitch the ninth for Duke. He hit Craport with a pitch and then Ryan Peurifoy blasted a ball deep over the left field wall to make it 5-3. Jake Lee came back for the 9th with 96 pitches thrown. He got the Devils in order, recording Tech’s first complete game since the 2013 Nashville Regional by Josh Heddinger over Vanderbilt. The loss went to Labowski, and the Jackets faced a much happier bus ride home. To win despite five errors and 1 for 17 RISP hitting is truly a tribute to Lee. Duke pitchers walked seven to Lee’s one, a rare occasion this year.

Bottom Line

The Jackets certainly didn't have the weekend they wanted, but got the win they absolutely needed. Falling behind Duke, they are tied with ND (without the tie breaker), lead VPI by one game and Pittsburgh and BC by two games (with the tie breaker over the first two). They host Georgia Southern Tuesday to finish a two game series that started way back in February, then look to the Cavaliers Thursday through Saturday. Pittsburgh goes to WF, VPI goes to Miami, and BC hosts Notre Dame to close the season.