June 1, 2008
by Jack Wilkinson
With two out in the seventh inning, on an already frustrating night, Tony Plagman lined a laser toward the left field corner and took off. Running hard himself, Georgia’s Lyle Allen reached out and grabbed Plagman’s shot to end the top of the seventh.
Jogging in and crossing the infield toward the Georgia dugout, Allen slowed while approaching the mound. Eddie Burns was already out there, and Allen flipped the ball to Georgia Tech’s starting pitcher. And Burns dropped it.
A metaphor? Not exactly. But it was that kind of night for the Jackets, one in which everything went wrong in an 8-0 loss in the NCAA Regional. With a chance to eliminate Georgia on its home field, the Jackets instead dropped the ball, and more. Of course, in a star-crossed season in which nothing has come easily for Tech, why should the NCAA Tournament be any different?
At least Sunday’s loss had a two-ply silver lining. After winning their first two games here, Tech (41-20) gets a 7 p.m. rematch Monday with Georgia. The winner will advance to the Super Regional. Almost as enticing, someone else will take the mound for the Dogs.
“I just hope that Nick Montgomery can’t pitch [Monday],” Tech coach Danny Hall said, smiling despite Montgomery’s four-hit, complete-game shutout. “He’s pitched against us twice. He’s their Deck McGuire, and beat us twice.”
McGuire is the freshman right-hander who defeated Georgia twice this season — including an 11-1 rout here on May 7, when he allowed a run in seven innings. Even when McGuire took the loss six days later in a 3-2 loss to Georgia at Turner Field, he still pitched well.
Montgomery, meanwhile, was other-worldly Sunday. The senior middle reliever, who made his first career start for Georgia against Tech in Turner Field and went five innings to get the win, had lost his only other start to Ole Miss in Georgia’s SEC Tournament opener.
On Sunday, Tech got the full Monty, managing just four singles off Montgomery and being shut out for the first time in an NCAA Tournament game since 1988 — 79 games ago. The last time Georgia blanked the Jackets: May 14, 1969, back in the wooden-bat era.
“He pitched very well,” Tech’s Charlie Blackmon — who had two of Tech’s singles to extend his hitting streak to 11 games — said of Montgomery. “He kept us off balance. But for the most part, he wasn’t throwing it over the plate. We weren’t taking good swings on it.”
“I don’t think we were that flat. I think Nick Montgomery was that good,” said Hall, who dismissed any notion that Tech might’ve come out with less intensity after winning its first two games, while Georgia — having lost its Friday opener to Lipscomb — faced elimination.
“To their credit, they scored early and got the crowd into it,” said Hall, whose starter, Eddie Burns, gave up a two-run homer to Matt Olson in the third inning. When Burns surrendered another two-run shot to Matt Cerione in the fifth, it was 5-0, and over.
“I don’t think our team was flat,” Hall said. “I just think he [Montgomery] was that good. “
“I didn’t feel like I was able to locate my fastball,” Burns said. “Early on in the game, I walked some guys. And when I left it over the plate, they got good swings on it.”
Tech, meanwhile, came up just short in several ways. Catcher Jason Haniger, who hit a monstrous homer Friday against Louisville and another one in Saturday’s 6-3 win over Lipscomb, just missed another in the second inning when his blast was caught at the left field wall. Six different Jackets struck out against Montgomery; No. 2 hitter Jeff Rowland fanned three times and Luke Murton, No. 3 in the order, twice. For the second straight night, Hall came out to vehemently argue a questionable call, and again got no satisfaction.
More distressing to Hall, however, is this: After its opening 8-5 win over Louisville, and following Haniger’s three-run homer against Lipscomb, 15 of the next 16 Jackets (including the last 10) were retired before Haniger’s two-out single in Saturday’s seventh.
On Sunday, following Blackmon’s two-out single in the third, Montgomery retired the next 17 batters before Blackmon singled to right in the ninth. How to kick-start the lineup?
“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Hall, who’ll start Zach Von Tersch Monday.
“We’re not too disappointed with our situation,” Burns said. “We played well early in the tournament to get us into this situation. We have a good pitcher in Zach Von Tersch going [Monday] night.”
Even better, Georgia doesn’t have Nick Montgomery going Monday. Now, much like Sunday’s scene on the mound in the middle of the seventh, Tech must pick the ball up, dust itself off and start all over again.