April 10, 2018
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Sunday was a fine day for Georgia Tech baseball, albeit not one well suited for those with attention deficits, as the Yellow Jackets put a 16-3 hurting on No. 6 Florida State to position themselves nicely for the second half of the season.
You’d have to visit Russ Chandler Stadium many times to see what 1,557 fans saw.
The Jackets (19-13, 8-7 ACC) won their third league series at home, and they did it just about every which way. It took hyper focus to keep up as Tech put together 11 hits, including an inside-the-park home run by sophomore shortstop Austin Wilhite, drew 12 walks and scored three consecutive runs on two of the Seminoles’ five wild pitches thrown.
Oh, and the nation’s No. 1 team at drawing walks, Florida State (24-9, 8-7), didn’t work even one. Tristin English (2-0, 3.00 ERA) pitched six innings of one-run ball without giving a single “freebie,” as head coach Danny Hall likes to call them, and Andy Archer, Joseph Mannelly and Jared Datoc each worked an inning without walking anyone.
It all started a day earlier, when sophomore Connor Thomas threw the first complete game of his career in going the distance for a 2-1 win. The Seminoles drew 193 walks in their first 30 games, or 6.4 each time out. In their last two, they found one.
Hall believes that one thing leads to another, whether it’s contagious hitting or keen pitching. He found some proof on a chilly, mostly gray afternoon on The Flats.
“There was a lot that happened today for sure . . .” the coach said afterward. “The key was [Saturday]. Connor Thomas gave us a chance to go into today with a chance to win the series. He just put us on his shoulders and did a great job . . .
“We keep a running tab on the freebies, and I think today was the biggest margin that I can remember.”
It took a minute.
Halfway through Sunday’s game, the Jackets led 2-1, a score that belied all the action. Few knew, for example, that Buzz — the mascot — had been cautioned not to cavort so near the dugout so as to distract Hall and his players.
That lead was saved in the top half of the fifth inning when, with two Seminoles on, freshman third baseman Oscar Serratos ranged left into the hole to stab a one-hop shot by FSU’s Drew Mendoza before throwing to first to end the inning.
The Jackets were plenty focused in the bottom of the fifth.
The nearly endless inning
First baseman Kyle McCann led off with a nearly supersonic double to the right field corner, the second of three hits for a player with two hits in his previous 17 at-bats.
English drove him in with a single up the middle, and after a pitching change, second baseman Wade Bailey and right fielder Colin Hall drew walks. One out later, Austin Wilhite pushed two across the plate to start a career-high five-RBI day when he had three hits to wrap up a series with seven.
It was Wilhite’s most productive weekend this season. And as the Tech offense approached hyper drive, both McCann and Wilhite — who combined to drive in half the Jackets’ season-high-tying 16 runs — said they got where they are by, “Really just slowing the game down,” in Wilhite’s words.
“Not really getting too upset with my at-bats if I get out because I was getting upset earlier in the season. Just shaking it off thinking I’ll get it next time. I was hitting a lot at the beginning of the season and I just kind of backed down on it a little bit. If I take a few good swings in the cage, just take a few and get out.”
Austin’s brother center fielder Nick Wilhite, drove in Hall with a shot that caromed off the FSU pitcher to make the score 6-1.
Surely, nobody knows what it is with Tech twins and Florida State, but it sure seems to work, as former footballer players Lawrence and Lance Austin might attest after doing in the Seminoles at the buzzer on the gridiron in 2015.
The inning that wouldn’t end soon did.
First, though, left fielder Michael Guldberg, who replaced Chase Murray in the top of the inning, was hit by a pitch. And then, McCann hit repeat with another bullet double to the right field corner to clear the bases and give Tech a 9-1 lead.
“Really, just being more relaxed at the plate. When we played Georgia [in a 4-0 loss on Tuesday in Athens], the nerves kind of started going,” he said. “Just stay relaxed and kind of see it better helped a lot.”
Fun on the bases
English finished with a 1-2-3 sixth inning, but the Jackets were not done.
With two outs, Serratos homered to left field in the bottom half, and then Austin Wilhite nailed a ball to almost the exact same spot except he hit it higher.
As FSU left fielder Jackson Lueck tracked backward, Wilhite ran sort of hard.
First base coach Eric Patterson, a former Jacket who’s now a volunteer, knows a thing or two about running.
“I thought it was gone off the bat because I hit it pretty well. My first base coach said, ‘You gotta’ get going, you gotta’ get going . . . coming to second base I started picking up speed because I knew it was going to hit the wall,” Wilhite recalled.
Sure enough, the ball caromed as he neared second. It kicked hard off the wall, and as FSU center fielder Steven Wells chased the ball toward the infield, Wilhite hauled.
— GeorgiaTech Baseball (@GTBaseball) April 8, 2018
He scored for the first inside-the-parker by a Tech player since Colman Poje knocked one May 10, 2016 against Georgia Southern.
“When I got to third I was looking at [third base coach Mike Nickeas] because I didn’t know if any of the outfielders got to the ball and he was waving me,” Wilhite said. “I saw my brother waving me to get down so I thought it was going to be a close play, and I ended up being in there pretty well.”
Leading 11-3 after FSU scored on a pair of groundouts in the seventh, the Jackets were not finished.
They scored five in the bottom in an inning where they drew four walks and Florida State threw four wild pitches.
The second and third runs came after FSU freshman Tyler Ahearn’s second wild pitch when reserve catcher Jonathan Foster’s toss to him hit McCann in the shoulder as he crossed the plate. The ball kicked away, allowing pinch runner Patrick Wiseman — who’d subbed in for English earlier in the inning — to score as well.
Austin Wilhite followed with a two-run double to the left field corner, and Tech led 16-3.
It was a good day.
The Jackets hope there are more to come. They play at Mercer Tuesday and will play host to Georgia State Wednesday before consecutive weekend ACC trips to Pittsburgh and Coastal division leader North Carolina. The Jackets hold valuable tiebreakers over Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech.
“From where we started [a 0-3 ACC start] to where we’ve gotten it’s definitely good,” Hall said. “It’s a positive. We’re a game over .500 heading into the second half. We need a good second half to get where we want to go, but it’s definitely a trend in the right direction.”