May 25, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Hall removed the “just about” Friday.
With the season on the line and the team playing its fourth game in four days, Tech’s winningest head coach and one of the winningest active coaches in the ACC and NCAA, showed why, calling upon his senior closer and one of three captains to start.
It was something of a roll of the dice, as Isaacs hadn’t started in more than a calendar year — his last was May 31, 2013, against Illinois in the NCAA Regional — and the Jackets still had lefty Devin Stanton, arguably the team’s most consistent starter over the final two months of the season, available.
In response, Dusty did what Dusty does. He fired five shutout innings, allowing one hit, as Georgia Tech shutout fifth-seeded Clemson, 3-0.
The win kept alive Georgia Tech’s chances of getting into today’s ACC Championship Game. That would to fruition Saturday afternoon, following Miami’s 6-4, 12-inning win over Duke — Tech’s lone captor in the Tournament. (First pitch today against No. 6 Maryland is at 1:00 p.m. and can be seen on Fox Sports South as well as ESPN3 and can be heard on WREK FM).
The assignment didn’t exactly catch Isaacs as off-guard.
“I saw how it was playing out and I’d kind of been back in forth having dialog with Coach Hall and [Assistant] Coach [Jason] Howell and I knew that there was a chance,” said Isaacs, who has had a hand in all three of Georgia Tech’s wins in the 2014 ACC Tournament (a win and two saves.) “I didn’t really know how long I was going to be able to go. I knew I’d be right around 60 pitches, which I’ve done, a couple of times this year. [Coach Howell]. I tried to take the same mindset that I have closing games.”
That mindset came in handy as Isaacs had men on base in all five innings and allowed five of the six batters he faced pitching out of the wind-up to get on.
It started right away, as he hit Clemson centerfielder Tyler Slaton in the shin with his second pitch of the game.
“I missed my spot by about two feet, so it obviously wasn’t what I wanted,” said Isaacs, who hit five batters in 51 1/3 innings all year. “I plan every inning to get the leadoff hitter out. More times than not today that wasn’t the case but that’s where closing games kind of helps you out a little bit. I’m pretty accustomed to coming into games with runners on base. So I just tried to focus a little harder and make my pitches.”
He also knew he could count on his defense.
“I know that you’re always a pitch away from getting out of it,” he said. “We’ve turned a lot of double plays. Although we didn’t get one today, I knew that even when there was a runner on first, I’m just a pitch away from having two outs. “
That pitch came two hitters later, as catcher Mitch Earnest gunned down Slaton to complete an inning-ending strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play.
“That really picked me up a little bit,” Isaacs said. “Any time you can get two outs with one pitch it’s a real pick-me-up. It saved some of my pitches and got us back into the dugout.”
He felt good enough to joke with Earnest about the one (pitch) that got away to Slaton after the inning.
“I said, `I hit him in the shin on purpose. That way you’d be able to throw him out,'” he said. “[Earnest] kind of laughed about it. It was not really what I wanted but it worked out.”
Isaacs pretty much got what he wanted — leadoff hitters notwithstanding — pretty much the rest of the way, carrying a no-hitter through four, while pitching around leadoff walks in the second, third and fifth and a one-out bases-on-balls in the fourth, allowing only two runners as far as second.
“I knew that it wasn’t going to pitch the whole game. I was just trying to keep throwing up zeroes until we could get some runs,” he said. “I knew eventually our offense was going to come around and I was just trying to hold the fort until then.”
Tech did so in the fifth, taking a 1-0 lead on a Thomas Smith RBI single.
Isaacs then played closer, protecting the lead in, the crucial shutdown inning that followed.
“The most important inning of the game is the inning after you take the lead,” he said. “So I was really focused on just trying to get three outs without them scoring.”
He started the fifth the same way he started just about every other inning. He walked the lead-off hitter — on four pitches.
But then he got some help from Clemson hitters, who swung at his next four offerings, resulting in a pop-out to first on a bunt attempt, a fly out to right, a two-out Slaton single to right, getting the Tigers got only their second runner to second base, and an inning-ending fly ball to right.
Isaacs had done the job, throwing five innings, using 65 pitches — six fewer than his previous season high and his fourth-highest total of the season. Not bad, considering he’d come into the game with a career 7.36 ERA in four ACC Tournament appearances (one start) and a career 4.91 ERA in three games (two starts) against Clemson.
Lefty Sam Clay got the ball from there and slammed the door shut over the final four innings, striking out six and allowing only three hits. Two of those came in the ninth, when the Tigers got their only runner to third and put their third and fourth runners into scoring position on the day
Isaacs was proud of the sophomore southpaw, who he described as his left-handed doppleganger.
“Obviously, today he was pretty dominant. I think he’s really kind of knocked the door down this year,” he said. “He knows that he can make his pitches and if he makes the pitches he wants to, more times than not, they’re not going to hit him very well. “
The rest of the Tournament went very well for Tech, which earned its place in the title game after getting the help it needed from Miami Saturday afternoon, despite ninth-inning drama from the Blue Devils.
Today, the Jackets, who in 2012 became the first eighth seed to win an ACC Tournament, try to become the first ninth seed to do so. (Maryland won two of three vs. Tech this year).
Isaacs, a sophomore in 2012, sees some of the same characteristics in this year’s club.
“As much different as we are — that team was pretty experienced and this team is pretty young — I think like that [team] we have a tendency to rise to the occasion,” he said. “We had Jake Davies in 2012. This year we have Mott Hyde (3-for-4 against Clemson, with a ninth-inning, two-run, insurance homer). So I really think we’ll find a way to get it done.”
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