June 4, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
After their 2-1 loss Friday night to Austin Peay, the Yellow Jackets have to win four games in the next three days – with no losses – to advance to an NCAA Super Regional.
Tech got off to the right start Saturday at Russ Chandler Stadium, where Thomas hit a three-run homer in the second inning and Bradley pitched seven shutout innings to keep the bullpen relatively fresh in a 6-2 win over Southern Miss.
Ah, no wonder coach Danny Hall said afterward, “We’re a happier bunch today,” or something like that. I might have missed the exact wording while I was melting.
There will be more stress to come. Tech today at 3 p.m. will play Austin Peay, and if the Jackets win that game, they’ll play Mississippi State at 7 p.m. Should Tech win that game, they’ll have a winner-advances rematch Monday at 7 – all at Russ Chandler.
With first team All-ACC pitcher Mark Pope finished (he left Friday’s game after 1.2 innings with a strained oblique muscle), and No. 4 starter Matt Grimes likely unavailable until Monday night if then after he threw long relief Friday, it was critical that Bradley chew up some innings.
He did that, as the Golden Eagles did not score until dinging Bradley for a couple runs in the eighth inning. “It saved our bullpen,” Hall said. “He gave us 7.2 . . . that gives us a great chance to save some pitchers.”
After stranding a slew of runners Friday, failing several times to get down bunts, and grounding into double plays at terrible times, Saturday’s second inning was grand.
Palka’s team-leading 11th home run was nice, but a little while after that when Zane Evans executed a sacrifice bunt to put runners on second and third, there was a different feeling in the air.
Then, there was a “PING!”
Thomas’ third home run of the season was good for three runs, and the Jackets were on the way to a 5-0 lead. They added a run in the third.
“When Zane got the bunt down, I just wanted to drive in two runs,” said Thomas, who later added his second triple of the season.
As Hall said, “For once we strung some hits together and hit a couple balls out of the ballpark . . . hitting is contagious. Yesterday we couldn’t get any bunts down. It seemed like [Saturday] when we had guys in scoring position we were more aggressive and more relaxed.”
In all, a much better vibe at the ol’ ballpark, keeping the Jackets (41-20) alive.