June 3, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Sophomore Josh Heddinger pitched the game of his career, going the distance for a two-hit shutout of nation’s No. 2 overall seed Vanderbilt, 5-0, Sunday night in front of a capacity crowd at Hawkins Field in the Nashville Regional. Tech’s win sets up a winner-take-all game Monday night at 7 p.m. ET with a spot in the Super Regional on the line.
The Yellow Jackets (37-26) staved off elimination twice Sunday, after rallying with four runs in the ninth inning to beat Illinois, 6-3, earlier in the day, and then handing Vandy (53-10) its first home shutout since last season in the nightcap. With the Commodores ranked No. 1 in the Baseball America Top 25, Tech improved to 3-1 this season against top-ranked clubs (2-1 versus North Carolina).
Heddinger was in command of the hot-hitting Commodores, who scored 19 runs in wins over ETSU and Illinois and were averaging nearly seven runs per game this season. He did not allowing a hit after the third inning and retired 12 of the final 13 he faced over the final five innings.
The sophomore righty from Buford, Ga., struck out three and worked himself around six walks to improve to 3-0 this season. He threw 127 pitches in his longest career outing, surpassing a 6.2-inning effort versus Georgia Southern last year.
“It was a great day for us,” said head coach Danny Hall. “I can’t say enough good things about Josh (Heddinger). I thought the key for him was in the first inning they had a guy at third and two guys coming up, (Mike) Yastrzemski and (Connor) Harrell, and he got out of that jam. I think it gave us some momentum, and I think it gave Josh a lot of confidence. It was a team effort. We made some great plays defensively. He kept making pitches, and I think everybody in our lineup got a hit. We beat two really good opponents today.”
It is the Jackets’ first solo two-hitter since Cory Vance at NC State on March 31, 2000 – a 13-1 victory – and it’s the first complete-game shutout in NCAA postseason play since Mark Pope went the distance versus Mercer, 10-0, in the 2010 Atlanta Regional.
Mitch Earnest launched a two-run home run over the Green Monster and off the scoreboard in left during a three-run sixth inning, and Mott Hyde finished the night 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a run. Kyle Wren had two hits, was on base three times and scored.
Tech played error-free defense behind Heddinger, and got four key assists from freshman 3B Matt Gonzalez, making his first career start at third after an injury to senior Sam Dove in Sunday’s first game. Tech also played the Vanderbilt game without junior RF Daniel Palka, the ACC’s home run leader, who was injured earlier Sunday versus Illinois and hitting 7-for-14 in the Nashville Regional.
Vanderbilt’s Tony Kemp, the SEC Player of the Year, led off the game by legging out and infield single and swiping second. He reached third with one out. Heddinger got Mike Yastrzemski looking, walked Connor Harrell and got a fly ball from Conrad Gregor to end the threat.
Tech went right to work it its half of the first, and Wren shot a lead-off single up the middle, moved to second on Thomas Smith’s sac bunt and scored when Zane Evans ripped an RBI single into center.
Working with the lead, Heddinger retired eight of the next nine batters, before escaping trouble following back-to-back two-out walks in the fourth.
“I just kept throwing strikes; that’s all I tried to do,” said Heddinger. “I didn’t think about how long it was, how tired I was, what the score was. I just tried to keep throwing strikes and keep us in the game. I know they’re a very aggressive offense and they feed off just one thing at a time. So my job was to get out there and have no runs or one run. If I could keep that and extend it and attack the strike zone, I knew we had a really good chance.”
Brandon Thomas got the bottom of the fourth started by beating out an infield chopper in front of the plate. He moved to third on the first of two doubles from Hyde and scored to make it 2-0 thanks to Daniel Spingola’s RBI grounder to second.
In the sixth, Tech struck for three more runs on fourth hits and distanced itself from Vanderbilt. A.J. Murray got things started with a single up the middle, but was gunned down at the plate on a perfect relay throw from shortstop Vince Conde after Hyde ripped his second double down the left-field line. Spingola grounded out in the next at bat to move Hyde to third and he cruised home when Gonzalez laced an RBI single into left. In the next at bat, Earnest hammered his third homer this season off a 1-1 offering from Vandy starter Walker Buehler for a 5-0 lead.
With the lead expanded, Heddinger continued a string of 10 straight retired that was snapped with a lead-off walk to Gregor in the ninth. But the sophomore set the next three Commodores down in order to end it.
Buehler was handed the loss (4-3), after allowing five runs on 10 hits with one walk and six strikeouts in six innings. Adam Ravenelle tossed the final two scoreless for Vandy.
Georgia Tech vs. Vanderbilt – NCAA Nashville Regional – Postgame Notes
** Tech improved to 3-1 this season versus No. 1-ranked teams, having won the season series from North Carolina in mid-May.
** Tech handed Vanderbilt its first shutout at Hawkins Field since March 23, 2012 vs. Georgia, 1-0.
** Kyle Wren swiped his 28th base of the season in Sunday’s game, which ranks tied for 15th on Tech’s single-season list. It’s also the most in a season at Tech since Tyler Greene stole 31 in 2005. With 60 in his career, Wren ranks 10th on Tech’s career list.
** Wren was 2-for-4 versus Vandy, finished both games Sunday 4-for-9 and is 7-for-19 in the Nashville Regional.
** With 98 hits this year, Wren continues to lead the ACC. It’s the most hits in a single season at Tech since 99 by Charlie Blackmon in 2008.
** Tech improved to 68-58 all-time in NCAA postseason play, including a 40-39 record away from home.
** The Jackets improved to 24-7 when scoring first and 17-4 when scoring in the first inning.
** Mott Hyde was 3-for-4 and with two doubles, tied a career high. He had two doubles versus Virginia as a freshman in 2011. Hyde leads the team with a career-high 18 doubles this season.
** Tech recorded it second NCAA shutout in as many seasons, after beating College of Charleston, 3-0, in an elimination game in the Gainesville Regional last season.
** The two-hit complete-game shutout by Josh Heddinger is Tech’s first complete-game shutout in NCAA postseason play since 2011 (Mark Pope vs. Mercer, 10-0, in the Atlanta Regional) and the program’s first solo two-hitter since Cory Vance beat NC State, 13-1, in 2000.
** Tech is set for just its third winner-take-all game since 2005, and is 1-1 in the previous two. Southern Miss won, 12-8, in the 2008 Atlanta Regional and Tech beat South Carolina, 5-0, in the 2005 Atlanta Regional.