April 22, 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 1: Baseball. Actually, a Tuesday night game at Russ Chandler Stadium. Fresh off a weekend sweep at Wake Forest, still atop the ACC Coastal Division standings and with the ACC’s best record at 13-5-1, the Jackets commence a quick-turnaround, home-and-home series with Western Carolina.
“It’s not an easy one,” said Tech coach Danny Hall, whose team will return the favor by busing up to Cullowhee, N.C., Wednesday afternoon. Leaving at 1 p.m., returning that night at…who knows when?
“Bobby’s been after me to come up there for two years,” Hall said of Bobby Moranda, his former assistant who’s now the head coach at Western Carolina. Tech’s presence on WCU’s schedule will help Moranda’s recruiting, if not his won-lost record. That, in part, is why he wanted to play Tech home-and-home.
“That’s why we’re doing it,” Hall said. He smiled. “It may be a one and only.”
If only Tuesday’s game had gone quicker, cleaner. First pitch: 6:01. Game-time temperature: 66 degrees. Time of game: 3 hours, 19 minutes. Early-game quality of play: Don’t ask.
“I’ve never seen a guy score from first base on a wild pitch,” Hall said after the Jackets’ 16-7 victory. He smiled again. Sort of. “I hope I don’t see it again.”
On a night that included 31 base hits (18 by Tech), seven hit batters, three wild pitches, one passed ball, a blown call or two, several wind-blown flies and popups, and two early, boneheaded plays, Hall saw something unique — even for a baseball lifer like himself.
No, not those second-inning follies, when Rembert Rollison’s two-out bunt scored a teammate from third to give WCU a 3-2 lead. Rollison stole second, then third, and finally scored on Jed Bradley’s wild pitch to make it 4-2.
In the top of the third, Hall couldn’t believe his eyes. With two out, the Catamounts’ J.C. Lyons on first after a forceout, Bradley unleashed another wild pitch. Lyons took off for second, and then kept running. As the ball bounced high and away from Tech catcher Cole Leonida toward the backstop, Lyons reached third safely, easily beating Leonida’s throw to third baseman Matt Skole.
Skole tossed the ball to Bradley, who walked slowly to the mound, his back to third base as Leonida was also walking slowly to the plate. A thought arose: No one’s at home! Lyons thought so, too, and scored easily to tie it at 5-all. Hall was not amused.
“There’s something about Jed Bradley and his breaking ball I just don’t get along with,” Leonida said, shaking his head, blaming himself. “A couple of freak plays…I tried not to let it happen. But I knew the guys would pick me up.
“I was trying to help myself out, too, score more than I gave up,” said the catcher, who singled in each of his first three at-bats and had four RBIs. Still: “It was a gross game. We cleaned it up at the end, but it started out…gosh, it was gross.”
In the third inning, the Jackets (27-18-1) scored four runs — three on Chris House’s three-run homer — to take the lead for good. They broke it open with a six-run fifth, including a two-run single by Jason Haniger.
“It was a crazy game,” said the senior, who went 4-for-5 as the DH with four RBIs — two coming on his sixth homer in the first. “They were aggressive, stealing bases. It wasn’t Cole’s fault. Our offense did an excellent job of reacting and not letting them build momentum.”
“It was a crazy game, a lot going on,” House said, the senior outfielder and co-captain who’s in a scintillating six-game groove right now. “I feel very comfortable hitting. As a hitter, you want to get comfortable in the box. That’s what I’m feeling right now, and I want to stay that way.”
How comfortable House and his teammates will feel by late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning is anyone’s guess. A smaller contingent of Jackets leaves campus by bus at 1 p.m. It’s at least three hours to Cullowhee, likely another 3-hour game starting at 6 p.m. If not longer.
Then the boys on the bus will trek back to Tech. They’ll be lucky to get home in time for Letterman’s Top Ten List. Or not.
After Thursday afternoon’s practice, the Jackets will bus up to Clemson for a crucial three-game ACC series Friday and Saturday nights, then 1 p.m. Sunday. Then it’s back to the Flats, where finals begin Monday morning.
“It’s just one of those weeks,” House said, “where you’ve gotta suck it up and keep going.”
Six Days in April. One down, five to go.