ATLANTA – “Great players, great unity, great season!”
That’s how Georgia Tech pitching star Cory Vance sums up the magic that has lifted the Yellow Jackets to No. 1 in national baseball polls heading into this weekend’s NCAA Regional Tournament on the Tech campus.
|Cory Vance celebrates after Tech’s 6-3 victory over Wake Forest in the second round of the ACC Tournament on Thursday, May 18. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)|
Vance, a junior lefthander from Vandalia, Ohio, with a sparkling 12-2 record, hopes he and his teammates can work some more magic tricks when the Jackets play host to Georgia Southern, Auburn and Stetson in the weekend tournament at Russ Chandler Stadium.
Coach Danny Hall’s Tech team, regular season and tournament champion of the Atlantic Coast Conference, meets Georgia Southern in the first round Friday night at 7 p.m. after Auburn and Stetson clash in a day game at 3 p.m. Play continues Saturday and Sunday in the double elimination event.
If Tech got a tough draw, that doesn’t seem to bother Vance and his teammates at all.
“I want the competition to be tough,” he said. “because that will help prepare us for the College World Series. And make no mistake. The CWS is my top goal and has always been.”
If the Jackets do make it to Omaha, June 9-17 for another World Series showdown, then Vance should get a lion’s share of the credit. He leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in wins with 12 while posting a 3.34 earned run average. He tops the Tech staff in strikeouts with 108 and innings pitched with 105.
Vance has been a terror on the mound, throwing breaking balls and fast balls by batters with amazing consistency. He’s 18-1 in his career at Russ Chandler, the only setback coming early in his freshman season against North Carolina. He currently has a 16-game home winning streak.
“That’s a statistic I didn’t realize I had until someone told me a couple of weeks ago,” Vance said. “I think maybe it was Coach Hall who told me. Actually, I do not feel any more confident at home than I do on the road. But it does make it extra nice to win before the home crowd and also before my parents, who generally are here.”
When Vance is not on the mound, he turns into sort of a team cheerleader. He’s the first one on the dugout steps to greet teammates who have performed well and shouts encouragement to his buddies throughout games.
“I feel I am a team leader,” he said. “Certainly, I’m a leader of the pitching staff. So I take it upon myself to try to pick up our players when it’s needed.”
Strangely, Vance says it took two losses to a struggling Duke team to get this Georgia Tech squad into the swing of things.
“When we lost two out of three to Duke at home, I think our players could envision another disappointment like last season when we didn’t even make the NCAA field,” he said. ” I’ll never forget that day last season when we gathered in our clubhouse to watch the pairings show and our name was never called.
“We didn’t want that to happen again. I think the fact that we didn’t make the NCAA last season gave us extra incentive to do it this time That’s one big reason why we have played so well.”
Vance was one of the Tech heroes last weekend when the Jackets reeled off five straight victories to nail down the ACC Tournament Championship. He beat hard-hitting Wake Forest, 6-3, on a five-hitter just a few days after he had closed out the regular season giving up 13 hits to the Deacs in a 10-8 Tech win.
“Because of the way Wake Forest pounded me earlier and because of how well they usually hit, I guess the win in the tournament was one of my best-pitched games,” he said. ” I had everything working and felt real well that game.”
Vance compares that Wake Forest outing to one last season against Florida State when he beat the Seminoles, 3-2, in Atlanta. “The win over FSU probably was my best outing ever at Tech,” he said.
Vance has been pitching ever since he began playing Little League baseball. “My mother and father have been my inspiration,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them. My father was a high school pitcher. He made sure I practiced about two hours every day. It was hard work, but it certainly has paid off.”
Vance says the best preparation at all came when, just out of high school, he pitched for the U.S. Junior National team alongside a host of future stars. One of them, the St. Louis’ Cardinals’ lefthanded pitcher Rick Ankiel, was his closest companion on that team.
“I can’t begin to tell you all the things I learned about baseball with that team” he said. “That was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in baseball.”
But Cory Vance and his Tech teammates hope the VERY BEST is yet to come.