May 29, 2009
By Jack Wilkinson
On a day-night of contrasts in the NCAA Regionals at the Rusty C, which contrast was the starkest of all? You make the call: The ridiculous Southern Miss-Elon opener, which featured the Golden Eagles’ 8-spot in the second inning but still required a five-run rally in the ninth for their 17-15 victory?
“I could not believe the way the ball was flying out of the park in that game – on both sides,” Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said of that 32-run, 34-hit, 71-total bases smorgasbord.
Or was it the first half of Friday’s nightcap, when Georgia State fashioned 4-1/2 innings of a relative “Masterpiece Theatre” and carried a 3-1 lead over Tech into the bottom of the fifth?
“It always seems to be one inning where I have trouble,” said Deck McGuire, Tech’s ace and 11-game winner. What, Georgia State Deck McGuire? Yes, for five hits and three runs in the second inning. “That little speed bump,” said McGuire, who tried to collect himself and did just that.
Or was it the way the Jackets jumped on Georgia State and asserted themselves in the fifth inning? They did so with a little Danny Hall small ball and one grand long ball. On the occasion of Hall’s 1,000th game as Tech’s head coach, the Jackets stole and Skoled their way to a five-run fifth in a 9-3 victory and positioned themselves nicely for the rest of the weekend.
“I think it’s important to win the first game of the tournament,” said Hall, whose Jackets now face Southern Miss Saturday at 7 p.m. after the 3 p.m. elimination game. By then, maybe Matt Skole’s fifth-inning moonshot may have finally landed.
“I was going up there and wasn’t thinking at all about hitting a home run,” said Skole, who crushed a 1-1 Will Palmer fastball far beyond the right field wall for a grand slam and a 6-3 lead. “I was just trying to get a pitch that I could put in play hard and do something with – maybe find a hole and get a couple of runs.”
He got it all, Skole’s 16th career homer (leaving him two shy of the Tech single-season freshman record) and first-ever grand slam disappearing far into the night.
Asked if he knew it was gone when he hit it, Skole didn’t hesitate.
“Yeah,” he said, smiling. “I knew, I knew.”
By then, Tech had also played some fine small ball to ignite the decisive inning. Connor Winn, the freshman from Suwanee who’d made just four starts this season, started at second base Friday. And despite batting ninth, Winn jump-started the Jackets’ game-winning rally.
Winn, a right-handed batter, pushed a beautiful bunt slowly down the third base line for a leadoff single in the fifth. Winn did that on his own. Rowland got the bunt single from Hall and beat his out, too.
An inning of contrasts, indeed: Bunts and blasts. Small ball and long ball. Stolen bases and Skole’s game-winner.
And now Tech, which will start Brandon Cumpton today, is set up nicely for the weekend. “The first game is important so I wanted to throw our best guy,” Hall said. “And then I also felt that if by chance we had to play on Monday, I could use [McGuire]. If I threw him Saturday, and we ended up playing on Monday, then in good conscience I would not throw him. So that’s where it came down to.”