Jack in the Box from the NCAA Regional - Day 3

May 31, 2009

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By Jack Wilkinson

Resiliency, thy name is Tech. On a sultry Sunday when the Jackets had to win twice to stay alive, they’re alive and, well, clicking.

Twenty-four hours after putting themselves on hardball life support, now Monday night can’t get here soon enough.

Faced with elimination from this weekend’s NCAA Regional at the Rusty C, the Jackets rose to the occasion. Twice. Talk about your Sunday best: First, a late-afternoon, 8-4 victory that eliminated Elon. Then, a Sunday night special: a 10-3 knockout of Southern Miss that erased the misery of Saturday’s 10-7 loss to the Golden Eagles and puts the two teams in a Monday night, 7 p.m. rematch with the winner advancing to next weekend’s Super Regional.

A long day-night’s journey into Monday came after Saturday night’s horror: the five-error 10-7 loss to Southern Miss that left Tech in potential double trouble. The Jackets had to oust Elon, then find a way to silence Southern Mississippi’s bats. Missions accomplished.

In the opener, it was a second-inning, seven-run heaven that erased Elon’s early 2-0 advantage and gave Tech precisely what it needed: an early, enormous cushion. The Jackets batted around in the second and battered four Elon pitchers, scoring seven runs on superb A-B-C station-to-station hitting.

Four Jackets walked. Five had hits, only one for extra-bases: Matt Skole’s RBI double. Seven runs scored. Russ Chandler Stadium breathed a collective sigh of relief _ especially once Mark Pope took the mound in the fifth.

Talk about papal infallibility: Pope threw five innings of scoreless relief to preserve the victory and earn himself his eighth save of the year == but first since March 28. The five innings matched Pope’s career-high in innings pitched in a game, and he also equaled his career best in strikeouts with seven.

“It has been awhile, but the arm felt good,” Pope said. “I was well-rested, and I had a tail on the fastball today, which really helped me out.”

But before Pope’s appearance, it was also Jake Davies’ grit that literally helped subdue the Phoenix (formerly the Fighting Christians). In the fourth, with the bases loaded and one out, Davies took a blistered liner off his left/pitching arm. He had the wherewithal to pick the ball up on the second try and throw home to force the runner from third on an extremely close play.

“There were two critical outs in the game where it could have gone in a different direction,” Tech head coach Danny Hall said. “Tremendous job by Jake, and I probably should’ve taken him out because his arm was hurting him more than he let on. And then he went back out and couldn’t throw strikes.”

No matter. Not with Pope throwing strikes and retiring batters. Although Elon scored one run in the fifth (charged to Davies), Pope worked out of trouble and got a strike ’em out-throw ’em out 2-4-3 double play to escape further damage.

In the sixth, with an Elon runner on first and one out, Chris House caught a fly ball to deep left, then threw a laser strike to first base. It reached Tony Plagman on one-hop, after Tech’s first baseman disguised the play perfectly. He didn’t move until the last moment, deking Elon’s Cory Harrilchak by suddenly stretching and taking House’s throw to double Harrilchak off first base.

Game, set and match. And on to Sunday night’s standoff with Southern Miss.

Tech quickly took command with a three-run first, the first of three 3-spots the Jackets would post for a 3-0 lead they’d never relinquish. Behind five solid innings from starter Andrew Robinson, Tech took control and never let Southern Miss crank up its potent offense.

Thomas Nichols, Tech’s human Swiss Army Knife, pitched four solid innings of one-run relief to earn his first save of the season. In the sixth, another 3-spot gave Nichols and Tech breathing room at 7-2. In the ninth, three more runs ensured that the Jackets a rematch with Southern Miss in Monday night’s 7 p.m. elimination game.

To the winner goes the Super Regional. Tech likes its chances very much, with ace Deck McGuire, who went seven solid innings Friday to beat Georgia State 9-3 for his 11th win of the season, relatively rested on two days rest. If, as the baseball axiom goes, momentum is the next game’s starting pitcher, Tech has the mojo on its side.

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