April 3, 2018
by Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
There’s another backyard ballgame coming up this evening, and Georgia Tech’s best chances to beat Georgia in Athens may come down to the emerging bull-headed personalities of several baseball players.
The Yellow Jackets swept Miami last weekend in Russ Chandler Stadium, the first time that’s happened since 1967 and the only home sweep of the Hurricanes in Danny Hall‘s 25 years as head coach of the Jackets, and they did it with stingy pitching, aggressive base running and stellar defense.
Oh, and the Jackets (17-11, 6-6 ACC) pounded the ACC’s top pitching staff pretty good, winning games 6-1, 13-4 and 4-1.
It may take more hard charging to top the No. 16 Bulldogs (21-7), who’ve won 14 of their last 16 games and are 16-2 at home.
Tech head coach Danny Hall will look for more of the grit his team played with on Sunday, when starting pitcher Tristin English went a career-long six innings and struck out a career-high seven to earn his first career win.
After he allowed five hits and a walk, Andy Archer pitched three scoreless innings for his first career save.
English was no lock to make his third career start. He left Saturday’s game after fouling a ball off of his left shin.
“It was great stuff. That’s kind of what I told the team,” Hall said after the sweep. “Tristin English, he was probably hurting more than he let on but I know he really wanted to pitch . . . I feel like he really gutted it out.”
Eight of Tech’s nine hits Sunday were singles after they roughed up Miami for 15 hits Friday and 14 more on Saturday, yet they won their fourth-straight game with solid pitching and bold base running by Wade Bailey and Colin Hall.
English kept the Hurricanes off balance, but his balance wasn’t so hot a few hours earlier. By the time he got to Russ Chandler Stadium, though, he felt differently.
“This morning when I woke up, I could hardly walk,” the third-year sophomore said Sunday. “There was really no doubt in my mind that I was going to start, and there wasn’t a whole lot they were going to do about it. I wasn’t going to say anything to keep them from starting me.”
Running was painful, so English did not hit, but landing on that left leg while pitching was manageable so he pitched and quite well.
That’s become a theme as Hall made just four pitching changes in the three games.
Xzavion Curry (6-0, 2.72 ERA) on Friday went eight innings and struck out 12 just one week after striking out 11 over seven innings in a win at No. 6 NC State. The sophomore was named ACC pitcher of the week on Monday.
Connor Thomas (3.3, 4.29) pitched a career-long 7.1 innings Saturday, allowing four hits and striking out a career-high 10.
Freshman lefty Brant Hurter (2-1, 5.03) figures to start tonight at Georgia, and he’s coming off back-to-back scoreless starts of five innings against No. 13 Auburn and seven innings against Georgia Southern.
“Hurter has thrown really well in mid-week, so we’re going to have another great test Tuesday night in Athens,” coach Hall said. “They’re playing extremely well.”
Fast start, Bailey’s blooper
Miami pitcher Andrew Cabezas gave the Jackets fits last season, striking out 18 batters over 10 innings in three relief appearances. He struck out 11 more on Sunday as a starter, but the Jackets worked him for four runs over 7.2 innings.
Left fielder Chase Murray singled off the first pitch in the first inning, and after first baseman Kyle McCann moved him to third with a rocket double to center, the Jackets’ newly-minted cleanup hitter flared a ball to center to plate Tech’s first run. Bailey had eight hits in three games against Miami.
“I was just as surprised as you all, but apparently I’m liking it,” he said after he had two hits Sunday while batting in the No. 4 spot for the first time.
Miami tied the game on a leadoff home run by third baseman Romy Gonzalez in the third inning, but that would be the Hurricanes’ last score.
Tech scrapped for its remaining runs.
After Bailey doubled down the left field line with one out in the sixth, he moved to third when Colin Hall chopped a ball over the head of Cabezas and beat out a throw by Miami second baseman Willy Escala.
Soon, Bailey took off on a wild pitch. The ball bounced almost perfectly off the brick backstop wall to Miami catcher Isaac Quinones, who tossed to Cabezas covering home. Bailey was safe with a head-first slide.
With a 2-1 lead, Hall moved Archer to the mound in the seventh. English had thrown 81 pitches, 61 of them strikes, in his longest outing since undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in January 2017.
“He actually wanted to go back out, and we’re like, `No, you’ve thrown 81. We’re not going to stretch you out,'” Hall said. “I think from here on out, we can possibly start stretching him.”
Archer threw a 1-2-3 seventh inning, but found himself in a bind in the eighth.
He walked Alex Toral to open the inning, and Miami’s Freddy Zamora moved up a pinch runner with a sacrifice bunt. Escala followed with an infield hit deep behind third base. Tech freshman Oscar Serratos didn’t quite throw him out, but his defensive play saved at least one run on what would’ve likely been a double had he not gloved the ball.
Catcher Joey Bart and Archer sensed that the Hurricanes were keying on the change-up, so they went largely with fastballs from there.
Archer worked out of the jam by striking out Quinones with a cut fastball on the outer edge on a 3-2 count, and then inducing Michael Perez to ground to Bailey at second base.
A perfect ninth inning left Archer with a 1.12 ERA and his first college save in his 11th appearance of the season, nine scoreless. The sophomore from Wesleyan has come a long way from his injury-plagued freshman season, when he made only seven appearances.
“I think he’s just more confident. He’s a really hard worker. He wants to be good in the worst way, so he spends a lot of time working at it,” Hall said. “His work ethic is there, but when he gets in games he’s just going out there and competing. He looks like he’s having fun and he believes in himself.”
That’s about right.
“I missed a lot of last season with an arm injury, and it got to the point where I had to make some changes. I came back in the fall feeling a lot stronger, put on some weight, added some velo[city],” Archer explained. “I worked super hard . . . I don’t hold anything back. I just go into attack mode.”
Grind it out
That describes the Tech offense in the eighth inning, when Bailey drew a one-out walk and Colin Hall followed with a flare to right field. As he hustled the play into a double, Bailey chugged to third base. When the throw of right fielder Gabe Rivera got through the Miami shortstop, Bailey took off for home.
Gonzalez picked the loose ball and threw home. Fortunately, the throw was off-line, and Bailey scored.
“From what everyone else is telling me, I probably shouldn’t have gone, but, I’ve always been an aggressive base runner,” he said with a big post-game grin. “I like to put a lot of pressure on the defense to make plays.”
Hall moved to third on the second throwing error, and scored — barely — when freshman designated hitter Baron Radcliff lifted a fly to right.
Quinones took Rivera’s one-hop throw just in front of the plate and swiped at the sliding Hall, missing narrowly.
Archer closed with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, and Tech tied Miami for third place in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Pitching and defense were standard in all three games against the Hurricanes. It’s easier to focus on defense when pitchers work as quickly as the Jackets have recently.
“When you have a pitcher that’s working as fast as those three guys do, and pounding the strike zone, it’s fun to play behind them,” Bailey said. “I know we had zero errors this weekend, and I think that’s a direct correlation to pitching keeping us in it.”