Feb. 21, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
A successful pitcher — starter or reliever — usually will credit his success to trusting his stuff and a short memory.
Based on that criteria, freshman right-hander Burton Dulaney has what it takes to be very successful.
The 6-0, 179-pounder from Rome, Ga. (Darlington High School), threw three innings of two-hit, shutout ball in his college debut, in helping Georgia Tech record a 5-2 Opening Day victory over Purdue. Dulaney got a pair of double plays — one limiting the damage in a crucial bases-loaded, none-out jam in the sixth.
Both his trust in his stuff and short memory came into play almost immediately as he entered the game with Tech up, 2-1, but with runners on first and second, nobody out and Purdue’s 4, 5, and 6 hitters coming up.
Ideally, the goal was to get out of the jam and help preserve the lead for starter Brandon Gold, who’d pitched valiantly — especially with a sore neck — and get fellow reliever Patrick Wiseman, who had an uncharacteristic bout with his control — off the hook.
Purdue first baseman Kyle Wood greeted Dulaney by bouncing a ball into right field, out of the reach of Yellow Jackets diving second baseman Wade Bailey, for a single to load the bases. Kel Johnson’s aggressive charge, kept the runner at third.
Up stepped fifth-place hitter, 6-3 215-pound DH Mike Kornacker.
Dulaney stayed cool.
“I was nervous going out there but I trusted my teammates behind me and tried to make good pitches,” he said. “Just make pitches, trust my defense. They have my back. We have great team cohesion and just trust them. Throw ground balls and try to get out of it.”
That trust, in his stuff and his teammates, and forgetting about the bleeder that got through — not to mention the tenuous situation of the game — paid off, as he worked the count to his advantage, then, on a 1-2 pitch, got the pitcher’s best friend, a ground ball toward Bailey. This time the ball would not go through, instead, Bailey made the turn, getting the ball to shortstop Connor Justus, who fired back to first baseman Tristin English to complete the 4-6-3 double play.
The game was tied and the go-ahead run still stood 90 feet away.
Dulaney hit the next batter, then got a grounder to third, which Matt Gonzalez gobbled up and rifled to first to end the inning. The game headed to the bottom of the sixth 2-2.
It wasn’t perfect, but considerably better than it looked only minutes earlier.
So, how does Dulaney remember escaping his first collegiate jam?
“I think it was all fastballs. I think I fell behind, then I made a couple of pitches, then got the ground ball to…I don’t even remember,” he said, breaking into an “Aw, shucks” expression. “I was just so confident in [my teammates]. We got the double play then we got out of it. It felt awesome to get out of it.”
Sending the game to the bottom half of the inning only tied loomed even larger when Tech DH Trevor Craport clubbed a no-doubter out to left-center on a 1-0 pitch with one out in the sixth, to regain the lead for Tech.
Staked the lead, Dulaney went back out for the seventh and back at Purdue. Sans the duress of the previous inning, he retired the side on nine pitches, getting a strikeout and two ground outs, one to Gonzalez and one to Justus.
“He’s pitched really well,” said Hall. “He pitched well in the fall, pitched really well this preseason, so we have a lot of confidence in him.”
Enough confidence to give him the eighth inning, still up one run. After striking out the first hitter, Dulaney allowed a solid single to center, putting the tying run on first. But again, he responded, getting another 4-6-3 to end the inning.
“I just let the batters hit it,” he said. “Put it in play and let my defense work.”
Tech’s offense would go to work in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of some loose defensive play by the Boilermakers to put up two runs to stretch the lead to 5-2 and set up Matthew Gorst, who threw a strong 1-2-3 to get the save.
“I was really nervous, it being my first college game,” Dulaney said. “Then, after that first inning, I settled down and the longer I went the better I felt.”
Dulaney felt good enough to go out for the ninth, but was okay with his day, which was pretty good for a debut. He pitched three innings, allowing two hits, recording two strikeouts, didn’t walk a batter, and got the two twin-killings. He was locked in, throwing 20 of his 30 pitches for strikes and, most important, kept the ball down, not allowing any of his pitches to get into the air.
His dominance was similar to what he displayed in the White-Gold Series, where he pitched 3 ⅓ innings, not allowing a run or a hit, striking out one, walking one and throwing 22 of his 33 pitches for strikes for the victorious White Team. He threw three scoreless innings in the opener then got the final out of the eighth, setting up closer Zac Ryan in the Series clincher.
“He’s smooth and he’s going to throw strikes,” said Hall. “If the ball gets hit it’s usually on the ground. So I’ve been very impressed by him.”
Dulaney likely won’t pitch Saturday and may get the rest of the weekend off this early in the season but he’s ready to go when called upon.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m sure there will be nerves but I can’t wait to get back out there.”