Proof Positive

May 29, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Georgia Tech baseball has some mental-rebuilding to do in the week following its weekend at the ACC Tournament and preceding this weekend’s NCAA Tournament Regional, which the Yellow Jackets will host beginning Friday.

Sophomore outfielder Brandon Thomas is a good example for the team to follow.

Thomas was 5-for-10 with a pair of multi-hit games in the ACC Tournament, during which the Yellow Jackets hit only .231 as a team. The Atlanta native had been in the throes of a 2-for-22 skid over the regular season’s final eight games heading into the weekend in Durham, but never got down.

“It was kind of a fresh start but also I’d been hitting balls pretty hard before that. They just weren’t finding holes,” said Thomas, who raised his average 36 points during the tournament, to .333 for the year. “I just tried to stay within myself and kind of stay where I was at because I was happy with how I’d been playing the weeks before even though on paper it didn’t look so good.

“Also, the big-game atmosphere. I love the atmosphere. I wanted to do anything I could to help the team win.”

Thomas has helped the team win in his two years on the Flats. Last season, as a freshman, he was stellar in left field filling in after starting outfielder Jay Dantzler was injured. This season, Thomas was a consistent piece of the Yellow Jackets’ puzzle, compiling a team-high 13-game hit streak and stealing a team-high 18 bases in 20 attempts.

“I think I’ve matured as a player,” he said. “Ability-wise I think I’ve gotten stronger, faster, my arm’s gotten stronger and from a mental standpoint, too, I’ve matured, in that I took the 2-for-20 streak and didn’t get discouraged. I stayed positive, I think that’s the key in baseball because you’re going to have your great games, you’re going to have your tough games but you have to stay even-keel, stay positive and always believe in yourself.”

That belief in himself was evident in Durham, as he had a pair of multi-hit games and hit the ball hard on several other occasions. His mental toughness got him through the end-of-the-season skid, which, ironically, followed his only four-hit game of the season, a 4-for-4 effort in the May 9 finale of the series against Illinois-Chicago. Through it all he never considered the numbers.

“In my mind I was 10-for-20 because I hit 10 out of 20 balls pretty well,” he said. “It was tough to stay positive but I feel like I was able to do that and have a good tournament.”

Thomas feels that the team will be able do the same thing this weekend, as it opens NCAA Tournament play.

The Jacketrs find out who will round out the Regional today around 12:30 p.m. (ESPN). But the healing starts with putting the majority of the ACC Tournament behind them, selectively holding onto important emotional feelings.

“I think that we can use the feeling that we have today watching the ACC championship (game on TV), use that feeling to fuel our fire and get our minds set on the right track that we’re going to refuse to lose this weekend and the rest of the (NCAA) Tournament,” he said.

On the plus side there is the exhilaration following the 15-inning win over NC State, where the winning run scored on a Mott Hyde steal of home, with Thomas at the plate.

“I’ve never played a 15-inning game. I’ve never played that late. It was crazy on all levels,” said Thomas. “I was so proud of the way our pitchers pitched all night long and really proud of our team, how we triumphed at the end. I think we have to take that feeling and all our other progress coming from the regular season and take that into the tournament for Friday.”

Thomas wasn’t called up to play in last year’s ACCs or NCAAs, but feels he learned plenty by watching and can use what he’s learned to help this year’s team try to advance.

“I think that I can use the feelings that our team felt throughout the tournament. The excitement, the passion, the discouragement at the end,” he said. “I think I can use that to help lead our team to stay positive throughout the entire weekend because baseball is a game of highs and lows. I’m sure we’ll have our highs this weekend and we might have some lows. In the end you have to bounce back and stay positive and do everything you can to win.”

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