May 30, 2011
By Jon Cooper
There was plenty of oohing and ahhing in the home locker room as Baseball’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show took place Monday afternoon.
As the screen flashed the quartet for the Atlanta Regional, which will take place at Russ Chandler Stadium this weekend, there suddenly was a momentary silence, then a little bit of buzzing, as the players discussed their bracket. The buzzing then gave way to optimism as the team discussed the school’s 27th NCAA Tournament entry, 25th in the last 27 years and third straight regional host.
The Yellow Jackets (40-19), will host to Southern Mississippi (39-17), Mississippi State, (34-23) and Austin Peay (33-22), beginning Friday night. Tech will play Austin Peay at 7:00 p.m., following the Southern Miss.-Mississippi State game.
Tech is a combined 5-12 all-time against the region — 1-0 vs. Austin Peay, (a win in the 1996 Baton Rouge Regional), is 1-2 vs. Southern Miss, with all three games played in the 2009 Regional, and, 3-10 vs. Mississippi State, making the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007, although they haven’t played the Bulldogs since 1997 (the teams did not meet in the 2005 Atlanta Regional).
While the Yellow Jackets open against, the Ohio Valley Conference Champion Governors, the school that drew the players’ closest attention was the Golden Eagles, making their ninth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Georgia Tech Head Coach Danny Hall didn’t look back to 2009, when Southern beat Tech to advance from the Atlanta Regional. He chose to talk about So. Miss., circa 2011.
“They won the regular season and that has a top-eight National seed in it in Rice. So they obviously played very well during the regular season,” said Head Coach Danny Hall. “So I’m sure they’re very good. They’ve got a new coach, but the fact that they won that league and Rice is in that league, that’s all I’ve got to hear. They’ve got to be very good.”
Tech may get a break in that two of the Golden Eagles’ top pitchers, Geoffrey Thomas and Johnathan Thompson, have been suspended for academic reasons.
Of course, dealing with Southern Miss., will only come after the opener with Austin Peay, a school the Yellow Jackets admitted that he knew little about.
“I honestly don’t know anything about them at all but we will,” said Jackets’ ace Mark Pope. “Our coaches, I’m sure will do a good job with the scouting reports as they always do. So it’s something to look forward to, a new team.”
“They’re coming in here and we’ve got to beat them,” added shortstop Jacob Esch.
The Jackets have a 26-17 record as regional host and are 5-2 in regionals, but they have not advanced in either of the last two years.
“That’s definitely been on the down side for us but hopefully this year will be a lot different,” said Pope. “We’re all kind of really excited not to see Georgia on our side. We’re looking for a new team to play as well.”
Esch believes that this year’s team is different from past teams and the results will mirror that.
“We’re a younger team, have a little more hunger and I think our pitching staff, across the board, is the best we’ve had in the three years I’ve been here,” he said.
To reverse the fate of recent years, Tech must reverse the fate of recent games, when they struggled with runners in scoring position, especially during the ACC Tournament.
“I think that with guys in scoring position and young players, people put a little more stress on themselves and they tend to get themselves out,” he said. “Now playoffs are here. We try and relax everybody and hope that they just go out there and have more fun and get that guy in any way it takes.”
“You have to be aggressive but it’s got to be an aggressive that’s under control,” said freshman centerfielder Kyle Wren. “You have to know what pitch you want to hit before it’s thrown. We might have to improve on that a little bit.”
Wren feels that being at home will help.
“It’s definitely good to be here, so we can hear the home crowd,” he said. “It’s a lot better than going to some powerhouse school with a bunch of fans that are going to ragging on us the whole time. So it’s definitely an advantage. I think we’re going to have a good crowd this week end. Hopefully we can do well for them and get to the Super Regional.”
All-Session tickets may also be purchased beginning today, at 8:30 a.m. at www.ramblinwreck.com/tickets, in person at the Georgia Tech Athletic Ticket Office or over the telephone at 404-894-5447 or 888- TECH-TIX
All-session reserved chairbacks are $72; all-session reserved benches are $60. Single session tickets will not be available until Thursday, June 2.