Jack in the Box from the NCAA Atlanta Regional - Day 4

June 2, 2009

By Jack Wilkinson

At the podium, into the microphone, they said all the right things. All of them true. All in voices which, if not fully firm, didn’t crack.

All that came a little later.

Danny Hall thanked the fans once again, as he’d done after Sunday night’s 11th-hour pardon that kept post-season hope alive. “I want to thank our fans for really coming out and supporting us tonight,” the Georgia Tech coach said in the quiet of Monday’s post-game interview room. “They kept us in the game the whole night, and were very loud and supportive.”

They were, and they did.

“We,” Hall said, “just had a bad second inning.”

“I’d never played in an atmosphere like this at Georgia Tech,” said Jason Haniger, the senior catcher, co-captain and team leader. He spoke in a post-game atmosphere that was in stark contrast to the sound and the fury that filled Russ Chandler Stadium and fueled the Jackets all night long.

“It was honestly the most fun I’ve ever had playing,” Haniger said in the stillness, save for the sound of some Southern Miss stragglers still celebrating outside the door.

“Sadly to say, we lost,” he said. “But the crowd was into it, our dugout was into it, everyone was having a blast, and not for one second did we think we were going to lose that game until it was actually over.”

Chris House concurred. “The atmosphere we had was the best I’ve ever seen here,” said the senior left fielder who scored the season’s last run for Tech, one that still left House and his mates four runs shy of a tie, and a fifth needed to reach a Super Regional in Gainesville, Fla.

“I enjoyed playing with all my teammates,” House said, and the feeling was surely mutual.

The abiding emotion, however, one that won’t soon fade, was apparent once Haniger stepped outside the door and walked slowly down the hallway toward the locker room. This walk was even slower, more painful than last year’s walk-off bummer in Athens. Tech had won its first two games in that NCAA Regional, only to lose twice to once-beaten host Georgia, which celebrated raucously and advanced to the NCAA Championship Game before losing to Fresno State.

“This hurts more,” Haniger said softly, his eyes welling. “Every loss is gonna hurt, especially individually. For me, it’s worse now that I’ll never wear a Yellow Jacket uniform again.

“This one, there was so much emotion [than last year’s season-ending loss in Athens],” Haniger said of Monday night’s madness. There was Tech’s three-run first inning, which was quickly trumped – in spades – by a nightmarish nine-run second by Southern Miss.

All nine runs were charged to Deck McGuire, Tech’s right-handed ace, 11-game winner and All-American who went seven solid innings in Tech’s first win of this regional and nearly got out of the second without too much damage. But McGuire’s decision to dive to catch a sacrifice bunt in front of him backfired when he missed the ball. It bounced over the prone McGuire for a hit.

By then, Southern Miss shortstop B.A. Vollmuth had already smacked the first of his two second-inning homers. An error by Tech third baseman Matt Skole preceded a second home run by Vollmuth, voted the regional’s Most Outstanding Player.

Down 9-3, Tech tried to rally behind shortstop Derek Dietrich, who stirred the crowd of 3,103 into a frenzy all evening, especially with a three-run homer in the sixth. In the eighth, the Jackets added two more on Thomas Nichols’ pinch-double and Jeff Rowland’s groundout.

But Bo Davis’s two-out, solo homer in the ninth gave Southern Miss more cushion. The Jackets put a runner on in the bottom half, only to see Haniger’s shot down the first-base line turned into a game-ending, season-ending, 6-3 first-to-short double play.

The hurt, well, it hurt, this time even more than last season. This time, there was a finality to it all.

“This one, there was so much emotion,” said Haniger, who, like all his mates, stirred the fans with two do-or-die wins Sunday before falling short Monday. “We had three seniors [20-homer man Luke Murton, House and Haniger himself] contribute every day. This team was so close.”

This time was so close, too.

“I just didn’t think,” Haniger said, “that this was gonna happen.”

And then, Hanny being Hanny, he shook hands firmly and walked down the hallway. And into the night.

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