April 24, 2009
By Jack Wilkinson
Call it Six Days in April. Not to be confused with “Seven Days in May.” That 1964 film was based on the political thriller novel of the same name. Not that this week in Georgia Tech athletics doesn’t have its own intrigue, drama and long-range ramifications, if not long-range nuclear weapons. Unless, of course, Luke Murton goes on another home run binge.
But for now, as the spring semester winds down and final exams loom next week, Tech teams are positioning themselves for the month of May and the post-season. So let’s follow along daily during Six Days in April: a sporting six-pack on the Flats as April approaches May and the collegiate sports calendar gets serious.
Day 3: A dark day on the Flats — dark in the sense that there were no sports events held on campus. No baseball. No softball. No tennis, men’s or women’s. Track and field? We take you now to Philadelphia. To the venerable Penn Relays. Or, in Grover Hinsdale’s words, “The World’s Largest Flea Market.”
“I don’t know if that does it justice or not,” Tech’s head track and field coach said, laughing, in anticipation of four days of spirited, oft-great competition. “You’ll have probably this weekend, with beautiful weather forecast, 50- to 60,000 people in Franklin Field. And many of those people have been in those same seats for 30, 40, even 50 years. There’ll be 15-18,000 athletes.
“And in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, you have every vendor you can think of hawking their goods,” Hinsdale said, smiling.
“Jamaican food vendors. Novelty items. And the biggest characters you’ll see at any athletic event in the world.”
In the most hard-nosed sports town, there will be soft pretzels everywhere, cheese steaks sizzling, Tastykakes and Yuenglings, soft drinks and hard-core track and field aficionados. It’s the sport’s grandest event, graced by its most ardent and knowledgeable fans. It’s the 115th Penn Relays. On Thursday, Day One at Franklin Field, Georgia Tech’s women’s team put some of its best feet forward. Best feats, too.
In the meet’s opening event, the women’s 400-meter intermediate hurdles, Tech sophomore Leslie Njoku finished 9th out of 59 entrants with a time out 1 minute, 0.88 seconds. That was one of six Top Ten finishes by the Jackets Thursday.
Alana Clooten rendered nearly every entrant in the women’s hammer throw Clooten-intolerant. The senior finished with a throw of 186’5″.
The day’s most notable Tech performance, though, belonged to Mary Kate DuBard.
The freshman finished eighth in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase. Even better, in just her third steeplechase, DuBard ran an NCAA Regional qualifying time of 10:46.04. Hope somebody gave that kid a chocolate Tastykake. Or maybe not.
Back on the Flats, Bruce Heppler kick-started Thursday early, as usual. The men’s golf coach, fresh off a third ACC Championship title in four years, was in his office at the Tech golf center before 8 a.m., still aglow over this latest ACC title — his sixth total, and 11th overall over Georgia Tech.
“It doesn’t get old,” Heppler said. “You hate to put teams or things (accomplishments) in front of others. But certainly we weren’t the favorite. We’ve had our battles and struggles this year. But to see them do that was very gratifying.”
Led by three-time All-American senior Cameron Tringale and resurgent junior Chesson Hadley, Tech was five shots up on second-place Clemson entering last Sunday’s final round. Clemson actually took a two-shot lead early on the back nine, but the Jackets surged back to shoot a 7-under 281 and win by three strokes.
An honorable mention All-American as a freshman after tying for fourth at the 2007 NCAA Championships, Hadley struggled mightily as an inconsistent sophomore. But he was sensational Sunday with a 6-under 66 while Tringale fired a 71 in his last ACC Tournament. James White, the freshman from Acworth, shot three rounds under-par at the ACC. And then there was senior David Dragoo, the Little Lefty Who Could — and who did help the Jackets end the frustration of 21 straight events without a win since taking the ACC title in 2007.
Next? Tech’s NCAA Regional site and seeding, then hopefully a return to the NCAA Championships. For Heppler, however, Thursday’s itinerary called for some road work. Some a recruiting.
Destination: Asheville, N.C., worth the drive any day, especially so if it helps land a top recruit. “It’ll be a beautiful walk,” Heppler said. “We’ll try not to spoil it.”
As for Tech’s baseball and softball teams, both losers on Black Wednesday, Thursday brought a needed respite before this weekend’s big conference series. The baseball Jackets open a three-game series at Clemson Friday night. The softball team celebrates Senior Day Saturday at The Shirley before a critical double-header against ACC-leading North Carolina. First-pitch: 1 p.m. The rubber game Sunday also starts at 1.