June 3, 2012
By Jon Cooper
For the last two weekends, Georgia Tech has played ABC ball — get ’em on, get ’em over, get ’em in — to perfection.
On Saturday night, Tech got runners on and got them into scoring position, but couldn’t get them in and it cost them.
The Yellow Jackets got three hits from right fielder Daniel Palka and multi-hit games from catcher Zane Evans and shortstop Mott Hyde and hit the ball hard all night long. But they couldn’t get big hit, and fell to the top-ranked Gators, 6-2, Saturday night at McKethan Stadium.
“Baseball is a game of odds,” said pitching coach Tom Kinkelaar, who did the postgame press conference in place of Head Coach Danny Hall. “It was frustrating because we were hitting balls right on the nose, just right at people. That’s the way baseball goes.”
The loss snapped Tech’s five-game postseason win streak and, while it denied Tech its first six-game winning streak of the season, it didn’t end its chances of advancing. It did make those odds a little steeper.
The Jackets will now have to win three games, starting with an elimination-game rematch against College of Charleston, which beat Bethune-Cookman, 8-2, Saturday afternoon. First pitch is at noon, with Alex Cruz (7-3, a 2.00 ERA) taking the hill for Tech.
Should they beat Charleston, they’ll have to beat Florida in a 6:00 p.m. start, then beat them again Monday night.
“Going into tomorrow, I think that everyone still has high hopes,” said Saturday’s starter Buck Farmer. “We’re still on our game, tonight we had 12 hits. I think we’re going to be a very tough team to beat.”
The Jackets weren’t intimidated against top-ranked Florida, which was the visiting team Saturday night, and ace Hudson Randall. They out-hit the Gators, 12-9, and even drew first blood, but were only 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, with six of those runners in scoring position. Four of those runners were stranded by Davies, who proved he’s only human, having his first postseason game without a hit or multiple-RBIs, after hitting .450 (9-for-20), with five homers and 15 RBIs in Tech’s previous five games.
The Gators did not hit the ball hard for the most part, but created plays with its speed and hustle that were too much for the Jackets to overcome
Farmer took the loss but put on a performance befitting an ace.
He went seven innings, allowing four runs (all earned), and seven hits. He threw 117 pitches (the sixth-highest total of his career and the third-highest this season), 65 for strikes, and made big pitches to get out of jams, leaving runners in scoring position in the second, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
“It was just like any other Friday-night game: whether it’s against Florida or any other team, you’re going to be facing their best pitcher,” said Farmer. “I just went out there and threw my best. I battled and tried to keep my team in it. Credit Hudson Randall; he did his job as well.”
The one inning he couldn’t escape unscathed was the fourth, when UF put up three runs.
“Really, they had that one inning, the three runs,” said Kinkelaar. “You take that inning away and it could be a lot tighter ball game than it was. For the most part, we were in it the whole game. We just ran into some good pitching tonight.”
The lead didn’t last long, however, as Florida equalized in the third.
The Jackets’ inability to get the big hit had as much to do with some superb Florida defense, which turned several smooth fielding plays to get Randall out of trouble, including a key second inning 4-6-3 double-play ball on a Paul Kronenfeld smash, which followed Hyde’s RBI single.
“We just couldn’t get the big hit off of [Randall],” said Evans. “We were hitting balls hard and they just weren’t dropping for us.”
Tech threatened in its half of the third, and nearly got a break, as with two out and runners on first and second, Randall’s 1-2 pitch was fouled off by Davies and caught on a short-hop by UF catcher Zunino. Home plate umpire Mike Morris originally called Davies out, but then reversed the call, leading to a long discussion with Florida State Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan. The point became moot as Randall eventually fanned Davies to end the inning. The delay certainly didn’t help Farmer.
“That was kind of pivotal because it kind of stops the rhythm of the game,” said Kinkelaar. “Actually, it was to our advantage at that point in time but it did put a big lull into the game, to stop an inning like that and then have such a long discussion. Both teams basically cleared the field. To their credit, they got it right. But it did take the rhythm out of the game.”
It put Farmer out of rhythm, as in the fourth. Zunino took an 0-1 pitch out to center to make it 2-1. Zunino’s 17th homer of the year was only the second allowed by Farmer in 18 innings.
“[Mike] Zunino made me pay for a bad pitch,” said Farmer.
After a strikeout, he hit the next better, then allowed a double to right-center, an RBI single and a sac fly and suddenly it was 4-1.
“Florida’s hitters, to their credit, hit some tough pitches that Buck threw,” said Kinkelaar. “He got a little tough luck on some of them. There were some balls that were kind of flared out to the outfield in no-man’s land. You couldn’t have thrown them out there better.”
Tech threatened in the fourth, putting runners at first and second with two out, but Randall, an Atlanta native, broke off a marvelous 12-to-6 curveball that froze Thomas Smith for a called third strike to end the inning.
Frustrations boiled over in the fifth, as Hall got ejected by second-base umpire Chris Coskey. The controversy was over time out being called at second base, following UF shortstop Nolan Fontana leaving the base to see the trainer, after a hard slide into Smith. Fontana had reached second on a throwing error by Mott Hyde. He appeared to be running off as if out and was tagged by Davies.
Hall argued, civilly at first, then, more animatedly, yet didn’t get kicked out until after he’d turned to leave the field. It was the second time all season Hall had been ejected.
“The umpire told me “time out” was called because both the runner, and Thomas Smith, were banged up on the play,” said Hall. “Their player thought he was out, and was leaving the base when time was called. I felt he (the umpire) bailed the runner out by calling time, and I told him he should not have done that.”
Tech got bailed out on Immediately after the ejection,when Zunino lined out to center fielder Kyle Wren, who threw back to Smith, doubling Fontana and Tech got out of the inning unscathed..
Tech’s ace pitched scoreless frames in the sixth and seventh, stranding runners at second and third in the sixth and getting a big-time throw fromPalka in right to nail Fontana at the plate to end the seventh.
Tech remained within striking distance, putting men on not cashing in on Randall, or closer Steven Rodriguez, who went the final 3 1/3. The Jackets stranded runners in scoring position in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
“Our hitters have been very aggressive and we’ve been putting ourselves in good situations,” said Kinkelaar. “We got into those situations tonight, but we just couldn’t come up with that big hit.”
Tech pulled to within 4-2 on an Evan Martin RBi single in the eighth, but were retired with the tying run at the plate.
A two-run homer by Preston Tucker off Jarrett Didrick with two out in the ninth put the game away.
The Jackets are down but not out. They were hardly shut down by the Gators and they have plenty of arms still available, including the rubber-armed Cruz and Davies, and the bullpen is fresh, having used only two relievers in two games.
“There’s no pressure,” said Evans. “We just have to go out there and have fun. We have to do what we’ve been doing all season: just battling and giving it our all.”