May 25, 2014
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By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Dusty Isaacs did not come anywhere close to playing for Georgia Tech Sunday, yet he was right in the middle of the Yellow Jackets’ vibe as they played Maryland in the 2014 ACC Baseball Championship Game.
You might say the senior pitcher was/is the Tech essence.
And that’s why the Jackets are ACC champions for the second time in three seasons even after being counted out long before each fight began.
A challenging winter/spring season of Tech athletics was lifted in monstrous fashion because so many Jackets have Isaacs’, “put me in, coach,” mentality that Tech surpassed reasonable expectation – again – almost as if nobody should have predicted otherwise.
Isaacs did not play in the Jackets’ 9-4 win over Maryland. He climbed on the bus from NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, N.C., with a win and two saves to his credit after the Jackets went 4-1 and won it all, and he would have pitched again Sunday if head coach Danny Hall would have let him.
Although the near-Cincinnati native wouldn’t really admit it, he lobbied to play. That mentality has a lot to do with the Jackets surpassing themselves.
It was just two years ago that Tech became the lowest seed in ACC history – No. 8 – to win the conference tournament even though they start at least three freshmen and sometimes four.
This time, the Jackets did themselves one better; they were the No. 9 seed.
And that Isaacs mentality was at the core of the Jackets’ combined efforts. He was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament after throwing 8.1 scoreless innings.
“He was involved in three of the wins. He’s a great competitor,” Hall said. “He relishes being in the middle of things. He was kind of politicking to get the ball again. There was no way he was going to pitch.
“But he said something to [pitching coach Jason] Howell before the game. And Coach Howell was down there in the bullpen, and [when Isaacs wandered down there], he said, `I’m just coming to watch.’ “
Isaacs had little chance of playing Sunday, although he wanted to, and will have to settle for the knowledge that his 88 games appeared in as a Georgia Tech pitcher rank ninth all-time in program history.
The Jackets were supposed to be in Greensboro to watch after a token appearance.
They did not make the ACC Tournament field, and had to beat Wake Forest (5-3) in a play-in game just to make the bracket. Then, they beat No. 1 seed Miami 6-3.
After a tough loss to Duke, the Jackets wiped out Clemson 3-0 and qualified for the championship with help from Miami when the Hurricanes beat Duke in extra innings the next day.
So, some fate has been involved.
But without the Jackets doing their work, they would not be on their way to the NCAA Tournament with an automatic bid as the ACC Tournament champions.
“Those are guys we want up in those situations,” Hall said of the heart of his lineup. “Quite frankly, that’s why we’re ACC champions.”
Tech trailed 4-3, but after walk-on catcher Mitch Earnest tied the game with a sac fly in the sixth inning, the Jackets put three runs up in the top of the eighth.
The big blow was a two-run single by freshman shortstop Connor Justus.
Isaacs was proud of that, and of all his teammates, who did not commit an error in five ACC tournament games.
The Jackets turned two double plays Sunday, including a 4-6-3 in the ninth inning that was large after Maryland put its first two hitters on base, and nine in the tournament. Tech leads the nation with 73 double plans overall.
“Our defense has been pretty phenomenal – and we didn’t make any errors,” Isaacs said. “Connor’s at-bat . . . he fought off a bunch of pitches, and that’s kind of a reflection of the way we are as a team.”
After it was all over, and the Jackets climbed on the bus to ride back to Atlanta, there was some celebration. But not much, perhaps because the Jackets believe they can do more damage.
Isaacs wanted a bigger piece of the action Sunday, and he’ll get his chance this week because the Jackets earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the ACC Tournament.
“I would have loved to pitch,” he said. “But I’m kind of glad I didn’t have to pitch. If we needed a couple outs . . . but coach knows what’s best for the team and what’s best for me. Any game like that, the competitor in me wants to be in there.”
Isaacs will have more chances.
All Isaacs did in the tournament was save the Wake Forest and Miami games and then win the Clemson game, when he threw 4.1 no-hit innings as a starter.
Hall says he doesn’t have a formula for winning these ACC Tournaments as an underdog.
“I don’t really know, but I guess at the end of the day you have to play good baseball,” he said. “In the end, our players played tremendous baseball.”