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#STINGDAILY: Crazy Night

May 15, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Baseball can be a crazy game.

They don’t get much crazier than the four-hour, 26-minute marathon Tuesday night game at Russ Chandler Stadium against Georgia — which ended on Wednesday morning after 11 innings, with Georgia Tech coming up on the short end of a 14-13 score.

“There have been some crazy games here, absolutely,” said Head Coach Danny Hall. “I wish we could make it easier on ourselves and not have to rally all the time but that’s kind of been our story.”

The story on this game had plenty of twists and turns.

It was a night that saw wild momentum swings, with Russ Chandler rocking early on, overflowing with delirium and ear-splitting volume then, in the middle of the game, becoming lifeless as Georgia rallied, then reviving and rocking again during an improbable eighth-inning rally then finally, just ebbing and flowing as each team threatened, finally ending with a groan, as Daniel Palka swung and missed at a Mike Mancuso breaking ball. The crowd that remained stood and cheered the Jackets as they left the field.

You want crazy? How about Georgia Tech scoring seven straight runs to start the game.

Georgia answered with 13 runs over the next four innings to take a 13-8 lead.

Then, when it looked most bleak, Georgia Tech put together a game-tying, rally in the bottom of the eighth, scoring five runs on one hit. Then they nearly won the game in the ninth, but Sam Dove’s rocket down the third base line was speared by Georgia third baseman Curt Powell.

“I squared that one up about as good as I could,” said Dove, who went 3-for-5 to finish his career with a .344 average against Georgia (11-for-32), with three RBIs and a run scored. “It was right at him. He was playing down the line, playing the doubles and it went right at him.

The game wasn’t decided until the 11th, when Palka, pitching his fourth inning, walked Powell leading off. Georgia bunched together a single, a sacrifice and a sac fly to take the lead.

The Jackets nearly equalized, when Wren, who also had three hits, a RBI and two runs scored, hit a one-out ground-rule double. He then stole third, but Brandon Thomas and Palka were both struck out on filthy off-speed pitches to end the game.

The Jackets had started so well. As if riding the momentum of the weekend series win over North Carolina, they came out swinging and punished Georgia starter Bryan Benzor, whose only previous career start against Georgia Tech came in the Kauffman Tires Spring Classic back on April 23rd. On that day he had seven runs to work with by the third inning, and allowed only two hits in three innings. On Tuesday, it took Tech five batters to match their previous output against him. Tech, which had five hits in the entire game, passed that total with two out in the second.

Benzor wouldn’t get out of the third, as Tech built a 7-0 lead.

But baseball can be a crazy game and momentum can be a fickle fan.

Jackets starter Josh Heddinger, who’d been sensational in his first start of the season last Wednesday at Ohio State (6.0 innings, two hits, one earned run), was dealing again. He had a no-hitter through 3 1/3 and had only one hit through four innings, facing only one batter over the minimum.

But then, with two outs, a runner at first and a 1-2 count on catcher Zach Bowers, the baseball gods decided they liked the view better from the first-base side and moved there — and quickly. Bowers hit a towering fly ball the opposite way on the infield. Tech first baseman A.J. Murray lost the ball in the lights and ventured into foul ground desperately searching for it. It hit about two feet from the first base bag. Heddinger picked it up, but by then, Brent DeLoach, the runner at first, who had been running hard all the way with two outs, had come in to score. 7-1. Still, no worries.

After a single, Heddinger appeared to pitch himself out of the woods against leadoff hitter Nelson Ward. But h e didn’t get the benefit of the call. His 3-2 pitch was sent out to right and the game was suddenly 8-4.

“If we just catch the pop-up then he’s out of the fifth inning with no runs,” said Hall. “But when that happens, if you’re pitching you kind of have to bear down and pick your teammates up, try not to give them any more runs. But the nine-hole hitter got a hit then the lead-off hitter, Ward, hit a home run. That put them right back in the game.”

Heddinger would leave with one out in the sixth, having allowed six runs, all earned. But the Bulldogs onslaught would continue against relievers Alex Cruz and Cole Pitts. They’d score five runs in the eighth to finally take the lead, 13-8. No Jackets were spared. Not even recent good luck charms Zane Evans and Daniel Palka could stem the tide.

“We just didn’t make enough pitches to keep them from scoring,” said Hall. “They had a couple of big innings on us, ended up taking the lead.”

Walks were a problem, as Tech issued 10 of them.

“They always [hurt] and so somehow, someway we have to try to eliminate them,” said Hall. “But we’ve had a hard time certainly doing that.”

The Jackets had chances, as they had a hit in ten of the game’s eleven innings and had a runner in scoring position in nine of the 11.

They couldn’t get the big knock late, although they needed only one to score five in the eighth to tie things up. They’d get three walks, a wild pitch on a strikeout and an a three-run error, when, in a case of poetic justice, Georgia center fielder dropped Justin Bryan dropped Thomas Smith’s fly ball, after losing it in the lights.

In the ninth, Palka retired the side, although not without some drama, deflecting one ground ball that changed its direction away from where shortstop Mott Hyde was headed, then got his glove on a come backer but couldn’t find the ball as he looked toward center field and the ball lay behind him. But finally he retired the side.

Tech, looking for its third walk off win in four games, nearly got it, as in the bottom of the ninth with one out, Brandon Thomas got his first hit of the game, a double down the left field line on a 2-1 pitch, but, after a walk to Palka, Zane Evans struck out against Mancuso then Dove hit a tracer to third, which Powell speared and took to the bag to end the inning.

The Jackets have a short turnaround, as they will be flying out tomorrow for Coral Gables, Fla., for their final regular-season series of the season, when they take on No. 20 Miami.

Dove is optimistic about the weekend, even though he was a little down following the loss, the only series loss to Georgia in his career.

“It is tough,” he said. “Offensively we had a lot of good at-bats, especially there at the end, a lot of good things offensively. Defensively we played fine. I just think they’re hitting the ball. I don’t think our pitchers were making bad pitches. They were just squaring balls up tonight.

“It’s good to see our team fighting like that, battling from behind the past couple of days,” he added. “It seems like we’re getting hot at the right time. Hopefully we can keep going like that.”

Coach Hall believes getting back on the horse might be a good thing.

“That’s the good thing about baseball, you always get another opportunity, another game,” he said.

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