May 30, 2008
ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia Tech’s Charlie Blackmon continued to swing a hot bat, Jason Haniger hit a two-run home run in the seventh inning and the Yellow Jackets overcame a 3-2 deficit to beat Louisville, 8-5, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at the University of Georgia’s Foley Field Friday night.
The No. 2 seed in the Athens regional, Tech (40-19) will play No. 4 seed Lipscomb, a surprising 10-7 winner over regional host and No. 1 seed Georgia, Saturday at 7 p.m. Louisville (41-20) and Georgia will meet in an elimination game Saturday at 3 p.m.
“This was a great way for us to start the (NCAA) Tournament,” head coach Danny Hall said. “I am proud of the way our guys played, the way they battled. We beat a very good Louisville team.”
Trailing 3-2 entering the bottom of the sixth inning, Blackmon’s two-out infield single with the bases loaded helped the Yellow Jackets take a 4-3 lead they would not relinquish.
“When Charlie hits the ball on the ground it puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Hall said.
In the seventh, Haniger’s towering two-run blast gave Tech some breathing room and a 7-3 advantage. Haniger’s home run, his ninth of the season, was Georgia Tech’s 91st round-tripper of the season – its most home runs since 1998.
Blackmon, who has a nine-game hitting streak and is 11-of-17 in the postseason, and Haniger combined for six of Georgia Tech’s 10 hits. David Duncan, Andrew Robinson (4-2) and Brad Rulon combined to hold the Big East Conference champions to 10 hits while walking just one batter. Rulon pitched the final two outs to earn his sixth save.
“I’m proud of our bullpen tonight,” Haniger said of Robinson and Rulon. “I thought they came in and did a good job of dealing with adversity and our hitters did a great job of battling back and giving us the lead.”
Georgia Tech, which was not invited to last year’s NCAA Tournament and then saw its bid to host a regional this year declined, reached the 40-win plateau for the 20th time in school history. The Yellow Jackets, who have three College World Series appearances to their credit, are playing in the NCAA Tournament for the 24th time.
Georgia Tech got on the scoreboard early. Blackmon led off Georgia Tech’s half of the first inning with a walk and moved to second base on a wild pitch. After Jay Dantzler popped up an attempted bunt, Blackmon stole third base standing up. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Luke Murton for a 1-0 lead.
The Yellow Jackets took a 2-0 lead — and had an opportunity to score more – in the bottom of the second. Haniger’s two-out single started the Yellow Jacket rally. Tech eventually loaded the bases for Blackmon, who lined a single into right-field to score Haniger. Tech’s Patrick Long, however, was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second base to end the inning.
Louisville made its first serious scoring threat in the top of the fifth, but Yellow Jacket third baseman Brad Feltes put the kibosh on it. Feltes, who has made one defensive gem after another in the postseason, grabbed a hard ground ball off the bat of Derrick Alfonso and threw out Jeff Arnold at home plate for the second out of the inning.
Duncan (7-3), a junior left-hander, scattered four hits over the first five innings and kept the Cardinals scoreless. In the top of the sixth, however, Louisville used back-to-back home runs to take a 3-2 lead.
John Dao led off the inning with a double. One out later, McClanahan hit a two-run homer to left field to tie the score, 2-2. The next batter, cleanup hitter Chris Domenguez, hit a towering solo home run to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead. Andrew Robinson came in to relieve Duncan and keep Tech within one run of Louisville.
“Give Louisville credit the way they came back and took the lead,” Hall said. “I thought their two hitters (McClanahan and Dominguez) made good adjustments off of David (Duncan). They hit what I thought were two pretty good pitches out of the ballpark.”
Georgia Tech re-took the lead and chased Louisville ace starter Justin Marks (9-2) in the bottom half of the sixth. The Yellow Jackets used a hit batter (Tony Plagman), a single (Jason Haniger) and a walk (Patrick Long) to load the bases with one out. The Cardinals sent in Thomas Royse to replace Marks and after getting pinch-hitter Thomas Nichols to line out, Blackmon came through again with an infield single. Plagman scored on the ground ball, as did Haniger, who came home on the wild throw by McClanahan.
Robinson sat down Louisville in order in the top of the seventh to preserve the 4-3 lead.
Georgia Tech’s lead swelled to 7-3 in the bottom of the seventh. Freshman Derek Dietrich hit a one-out double and scored one out later on a single up the middle by Plagman. That set the stage for Haniger, who blasted his ninth home run of the season over the center-field wall.
Louisville pulled to within 7-4 in the top of the eighth when McClanahan ripped his second home run of the day, a solo shot to left-center. But once again Feltes put an end to any potential rally when he began a textbook 5-4-3 double play.
The Yellow Jackets added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth when with two outs, a routine fly ball off the bat of Murton fell in between three Louisville fielders and Chase Burnette scored from second base.
Louisville made it interesting in the top of the ninth. Andrew Clark singled and Phil Wunderlich doubled to open the frame, giving the Cardinals two runners in scoring position with no outs. Drew Haynes flied out to left field for the first out, but it was deep enough to score Clark and pull Louisville to within 8-5. At that point, Hall turned to his closer, Brad Rulon, to replace Robinson. Rulon got the next two Louisville batters to fly out to end the game.
The winner of the Athens regional will play the winner of the Raleigh (N.C.) regional (NC State, South Carolina, Charlotte, James Madison) in a Super Regional next week.
– Blackmon extended his hitting streak to nine games and recorded his 28th multi-hit game of the season.
– Blackmon also stole his 24th and 25th bases of the season, tying him with Nomar Garciaparra for the 19th-most single-season pilfers in Georgia Tech history.
– The Yellow Jackets won their first NCAA Tournament game at Georgia’s Foley Field. Tech was 0-2 in tournament games at Foley Field entering today’s game.
– Tech is 2-0 at Foley Field this season, having beaten Georgia here 11-1 on May 7th.
– Georgia Tech has earned an NCAA Tournament bid 22 times in the last 24 years.
– The Yellow Jackets are 55-47 all-time in NCAA Tournament play.
– Friday’s game was the first baseball meeting between Georgia Tech and Louisville in more than 20 years – since the 1977 Metro Conference Tournament.
– UNC-Wilmington (this writer’s alma mater) defeated Elon (Wes Durham’s alma mater), 5-2, in the opening round of the Cary (N.C.) regional.