Never Too Late

May 25, 2012

ACC Baseball Championship Central

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Daniel Palka is determined to beat Clemson today if it’s the last thing he does.

The way Palka’s swinging the bat, it just might be the last thing anybody does.

Late-game heroics have become a specialty for the sophomore right fielder. Of his five game-winning RBIs this season (tied for second on the team with Zane Evans, one behind leader Jake Davies), four of them came in the team’s last seven wins of the season. Three of the game-winners came in the sixth inning or later, with two of those being walk-off hits.

“I think it’s kind of a focus thing, just staying focused all the way through the game,” said the sophomore slugger, who was named second-team All-ACC, his first All-ACC berth. “A lot of people half way through, they’ll get their first hit and then they’re kind of like, whatever. I think being focused is pretty important.”

Palka’s run of late-inning heroics started on April 27 against Clemson, the team the Yellow Jackets play today to complete pool play in the ACC Tournament (first pitch is at 11 a.m.). In that game, the Jackets allowed three runs in the top of the ninth and stared at a 5-2 deficit with three outs remaining. With the bases loaded, Palka stepped up and ripped a bases-loaded two-run double to pull Tech within one as part of their game-tying rally.

Then, in the 13th, Palka ended the game, blasting the first pitch from reliever Jonathan Meyer over the Midtown Bowl sign in right field for a 6-5 victory.

He’d proceed to win the final game of the next series against Charlotte with an 11th-inning RBI single then drove in what proved to be the winning run in the season’s final game, a 2-1 win over Miami which got Tech into the ACC Tournament, with a relatively early sixth-inning homer.

“Of late he’s really come on,” said head coach Danny Hall. “He’s had very consistent at-bats for us, has cut his strikeouts down and has found a way to get a lot of big hits for us.”

“[Palka’s heroics] meant a lot. Against Clemson that game was huge for us,” said Friday night pitcher Buck Farmer. “He’s had a couple of hits that have really done tremendous things for us. He’s done a tremendous job. Just him having late hits down the stretch has been big for the team and for him. It gives him confidence and gives the team confidence in him.”

Palka, who came into tournament week fourth in the ACC in homers (12), and sixth in the ACC in doubles (18), and slugging percentage (.585), has always thrived on coming up big when the situation calls for it.

“I definitely like the opportunity. I definitely want to be in that spot late,” he said. “It’s just something I’ve always looked forward to doing, hoping I could get the chance to do it. This year I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities to do it and I’ve come through pretty good.”

Palka’s homer against the Tigers was a lot bigger from a team standpoint than a personal one but was still big for him.

He is a Palmetto State native, who originally committed to Clemson before withdrawing his commitment and coming to Georgia Tech.

But that’s not what made beating Clemson personal.

What may have was the 0-for-10 the Tigers hung on him last year in the process of winning the series.

Palka got a measure of revenge this year, going 6-for-14 with two homers and four RBIs, but his personal success didn’t sit will with him, as the Yellow Jackets dropped the series.

Today’s game is another chance to make things right. That’s what makes the match-up with Clemson a big game.

There is a game to be played and that puts something on the line for Palka, but there is also something on the line within the context of the ACC Tournament — Georgia Tech’s ticket to Sunday’s Championship Game would be punched with a Tech win over Clemson.

That something is pride and that means a lot.

He is ultra-competitive — possibly the most competitive person on the squad.

“I don’t like losing anything,” he said, with a laugh. “Even if I’m playing ping-pong with my friends, anything like that. I just can’t stand to lose.”

Palka will stand in and battle today against Clemson doing everything he can to help keep the Yellow Jackets hot as they hopefully advance Sunday’s title game, and continue to make themselves look even more attractive to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, which announces its selections Monday.

He’ll stand in and battle for as long as it takes, knowing that the later it gets, the more likely he is to shine.

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