May 26, 2011
By Jon Cooper
– Story courtesy of FoxSportsSouth.com
Georgia Tech will have a tough road if they want to win their first ACC Tournament since 2005 — they didn’t help themselves by dropping their tournament opener, 9-0, to Clemson Wednesday morning, then playing the longest game in tournament history Thursday night and into Friday morning.
Then, again, after the road they had simply getting TO Durham, anything must seem possible.
The bus ride from Atlanta to Durham, usually a little more than six hours, turned into a nearly 12-hour odyssey, with the team not arriving in town until around 3:00 Tuesday morning. The ride included a flat tire and multiple-traffic delays trying to get through South Carolina because of the tragic Sunday-morning accident that damaged the S.C. 150 Bridge near Gaffney, S.C.
“Oh my gosh. It was awful,” said Wednesday’s starting pitcher Mark Pope, summing up the ordeal.
The trip got off to a bang, literally, as within minutes of departure, the bus blew a tire. While those in back heard the explosion, the bus went for about 20 minutes until a jeep pulled up next to the bus near the Mall of Georgia and the jeep’s driver pointed out the flat to the bus driver.
The bus pulled off the road and the waited for a repairman.
The dark cloud appeared to have a silver lining, as the team used the break to stop for dinner. There was a conveniently located Golden Corral, the team’s traditional place to eat on the road. The difference this time however, was that they stopped in Buford, Ga., instead of the usual stop in Anderson, South Carolina.
While dinner was welcome, the nearly two-hour delay for the repair truck afterward was not.
“We were outside, just hanging out in like the 93-degree heat or so, we just did whatever we could to kill some time,” said Pope.
Leave it to Pope, a Management major, to find a way for the guys to manage some of the time. He came up with a game he named “Squibb,” which the team ended up playing in the restaurant’s parking lot.
“That was just kicking on-side kicks back and forth to each other, like 2-on-2, just trying to be the last man standing,” said Pope, who brings a football with him on every trip to throw prior to every start. “That actually turned out to be pretty fun.” (Here’s some video looking live at some of the action from the Golden Corral in Buford)
More fun than the remainder of the ride would turn out to be.
The ride resumed around 8:00, but the bus ended up hitting a snag near Gaffney. A tragic truck accident on Sunday morning forced South Carolina Department of Transportation to close the SC 150 Bridge, as at least one of the three support columns of the bridge had been damaged, according to D.O.T. reports. So the team bus was detoured.
“We were taking the longest time trying to get anywhere going on the road,” Pope said. “It was just bumper-to-bumper with all these different traffic jams going everywhere. I felt like we could have walked as fast as we were driving.”
About an hour later they were back on 85, not far from where they had originally left 85. They were close enough to see workmen repairing the bridge.
There were movies to watch, including the animated classic “Cars,” — one of Pope’s favorites — but it was hardly a comfortable ride.
“On the bus, just sitting there sweating in the heat, there’s not too much you really can do,” he said. “It’s either freezing or you’re in there sweating. It either has to be on and you can be cold or it’s off and you’re going to be sweating. There’s never a perfect medium.”
Once back on 85, Tech managed to make it out of South Carolina, into North Carolina and, eventually — and uneventfully — to the hotel.
“It was some time around 3:00,” said Pope. “Everybody just got their hotel keys, went to their rooms and just passed out on the bed.”
The team practiced as scheduled at noon the next day.
Pope refused to play conspiracy theorist and blame Clemson or anyone in the ACC, for the delay-filled ride.
“Who knows? Maybe they’re a lot sneakier than we think they are,” he said, with a laugh. “I just think it was more some bad luck just all coming in at one time.”
The Yellow Jackets are hoping that bad luck has subsided.