May 24, 2013
DURHAM, N.C. – Freshman Jonathan King gave Georgia Tech a solid start in his first postseason appearance, but Virginia Tech broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning and hung on to beat the Yellow Jackets in the teams’ pool-play finale Friday afternoon at the ACC Baseball Championship in Durham, N.C.
The seventh-seeded Jackets (34-25), who won last year’s ACC title, led twice in the game, seizing a 1-0 lead in the third and nudging ahead 2-1 in the fifth before the sixth-seeded Hokies (38-19) scored once in the fifth and once in the seventh to earn a spot in Sunday’s ACC championship game.
Tech’s postseason fate now rests with the NCAA selection committee, who announces the 2013 NCAA field on Monday at 12 p.m. on ESPNU. The Jackets resume is strong with an RPI of 22, a No. 2-rated strength of schedule, 20 wins over the RPI top 100 and regular-season series wins over RPI-No. 1 North Carolina, RPI-No. 3 Virginia, RPI-No. 11 Virginia Tech and two wins over No. 9 Florida State.
“That was a really good ballgame,” said head coach Danny Hall. “I thought we played really well. Jonathan pitched really well. But credit them. Burke made a lot of pitches when he had to, and they got the big hit when they needed it.”
King worked a career-long 6.1 innings, allowing nine hits with three strikeouts and one walk, keeping one of league’s hotter offenses at bay, but would be on the hook for the tough-luck decision. The rookie lefty turned a 2-2 game over to the bullpen after allowing a pair of singles around a sac bunt in the seventh inning.
Kyle Wernicki, who reached on a lead-off single up the middle in the seventh, scored from third when reliever Alex Cruz got Chad Pinder to lift a sac fly to center. A single in the next at bat ended Cruz’s day and Daniel Palka entered to get a strikeout in the final at bat, and worked a clean eighth to keep it at just a 3-2 game.
Sam Dove roped a double down the left-field line with two outs in the eighth, and the Hokies called on closer Clark Labitan to get the final out in the eighth and set the Jackets down in order in the ninth to close out the victory for starter Devin Burke . The save for Labitan was his 10th.
Burke tossed 7.2 innings, allowing seven hits with two runs and four strikeouts to improve to 10-3.
Matt Gonzalez, who finished 2-for-4, ripped a single to right in the third inning and moved to third when Thomas Smith reached on a throwing error by the short stop. Kyle Wren’s RBI grounder to first base broke the scoreless tie.
Pinder hit a solo home run to right field that tied the game at 1-1 in the fourth and the Jackets came right back in the fifth to reclaim a 2-1 lead.
Gonzalez and Smith singled to lead off the fifth, and Brandon Thomas walked to load the bases with one out. Palka’s RBI grounder pushed the Jackets ahead, but it could have been more. With runners at first third, Mitch Earnest hammered a ball to left that seemed headed for the Blue Monster, but the ball hung up in the stiff breeze and was reeled in at the track by Horan.
Earnest, who entered the game to catch in the bottom of the fourth for Zane Evans, would have another shot at some heroics in the seventh but his smash to left landed just shy of the Blue Monster in Horan’s glove.
“I think the elements definitely had a factor in the game,” said Hall. “I think we hit a couple of balls, particularly my substitute catcher hit a couple balls, that any other day, one was a home run and one was off the wall, and the one that would have been off the wall the bases were loaded. It played a factor, but credit them.”
“He wasn’t feeling good,” said Hall of his catcher Evans. “It was just the case where he didn’t feel like he could go back there and catch.”
Should the Jackets earn an NCAA at-large bid, it would mark the 27th time in the last 29 years appearing in the NCAA Tournament.