April 4, 2009
ATLANTA – Jason Haniger belted a walk-off grand slam in the 11th inning to lift No. 3 Georgia Tech to a 10-6 win over No. 5 North Carolina Saturday afternoon at Russ Chandler Stadium.
The Yellow Jackets (19-5, 9-3 ACC) scored seven runs over the final three innings – including three in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game – to win while maintaining sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings. The loss dropped the Tar Heels to 23-7 on the season and 8-5 in conference play.
“We found a way to win in the end,” Tech head coach Danny Hall said after the game. “You have to give our guys a lot of credit for hanging in there.”
A liner up the middle by Chris House and a bunt single from Jeff Rowland put runners on first and second for Derek Dietrich with one out in the 11th inning. North Carolina shortstop Ryan Graepel followed with a diving play off the bat of his Tech counterpart to keep the ball on the infield, loading the bases for Haniger. The Tech catcher then sent his third home run of the season over the right-center field wall to even the series at 1-1.
“Haniger had really struggled until he hit the walk-off,” Hall said. “It was a pretty exciting ending both for him and the rest of the team.”
Tech looked to be on its way to losing its first series of the season until the bottom of the ninth, when the Jackets began their comeback. Luke Murton started things off with a solo home run, his second of the game and fifth of the season, to pull Tech to within two runs at 6-4. Jason Garofalo followed with a single and moved to second when Carolina reliever Colin Bates walked House. An RBI single by Rowland plated Garofalo, and Dietrich followed with a run-scoring single to tie the game at 6-6. Bates then worked out of the jam by striking out Haniger, sending the game into extra innings.
“We were just trying to get people on,” Hall said. “When you get to the ninth inning, you hope that you can get some people on and then somebody can get a hit. It worked out that way today. We were able to get that hit in the ninth inning to tie it.”
Rowland, Dietrich and Murton all finished with three hits in the game, while Haniger led the Jackets with four RBI.
Mark Pope (3-0) came on after Tech tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. He faced just one over the minimum in his two innings of work while holding the `Heels scoreless to pick up his third win of the season.
“Pope did a tremendous job of throwing two zeros up there and gave us a chance to win,” Hall added.
Bates (3-2) took the loss after giving up four runs on five hits in his two innings of work. Haniger’s home run came off reliever Nate Striz, but Bates gave up the singles to House and Rowland in the 11th.
Neither starting pitcher figured into the decision. Zach Von Tersch allowed four runs, only two of which were earned, in five innings of work. UNC starter Adam Warren tossed six innings, giving up three runs on four hits while striking out eight and walking four.
The Tech bullpen was solid all afternoon. Jake Davies worked a 1-2-3 sixth inning in relief of Von Tersch, and Andrew Robinson faced just one over the minimum through his first 2-1/3 innings before a pair of hits chased him in the ninth. Zach Brewster came on to force Carolina first baseman Dustin Ackley into an inning-ending groundout, keeping the Jackets to within three runs headed into the bottom of the ninth.
“Davies got some big outs, and Brewster’s (out) was huge there in the ninth,” Hall said. “Robinson pitched very well up until the end, and he was a little unfortunate as the guy dumped a hit down the left field line on him. All told, it was a great comeback win for our team.”
UNC took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first when Garrett Gore smacked a two-run homer over the center field wall. A solo home run by Rowland pulled the Jackets to within one in the bottom of the first, and Murton’s two-run shot gave Tech a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the second.
Carolina took the lead back with two runs in the top of the fourth, and the score remained 4-3 in the Tar Heels favor until the ninth, when UNC scored two more to go ahead 6-3.
A capacity crowd was on hand to witness the Yellow Jackets’ comeback victory, as 4,186 fans attended Saturday’s game. It was the sixth-highest attendance mark in Russ Chandler Stadium history, and the most to ever attend an ACC game at the Rusty C.
“The crowd was a major influence today,” Hall said. “I hope the ones who stuck around are glad that they did. It was great to see, and for so many people to show up for a college baseball game was awesome.”
The two teams will meet for the rubber game of the series Sunday at 1 p.m. Kevin Jacob (4-1, 2.97 ERA) will take the mound for the Yellow Jackets, and the Tar Heels will counter with Matt Harvey (4-1, 5.67 ERA). The game can be heard on AM 790 The Zone, and live stats will be available at Ramblinwreck.com.