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#TGW: The Kids ARE Alright

June 2, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

– Georgia Tech baseball’s 2014 season ended Sunday night, sooner than the players and coaches wanted it to, as the third-seeded Jackets fell to second-seed Washington for the second time in two days, this time, 4-2 The loss eliminated them from the Oxford Regional.

While there was obvious hurt afterward — the kind only one team is not going to experience when all is said and done — that hurt should be lessened by recognition of the team’s accomplishments, especially those by the freshman class.

There were 16 of them that opened the season, they frequently manned as many as six spots in the starting lineup and four started more than half of the team’s games — the fourth-most of any team in the nation.

There, of course, were growing pains, but the freshmen would dish out even more pain as they were instrumental in Georgia Tech winning the school’s ninth ACC Tournament Championship and the first ever for a No. 9 seed. They then pushed one of the nation’s best-kept secrets — the University of Washington Huskies, who finished only two games behind NCAA Tournament top-seed Oregon State in Pac-12 play. Not bad for a team that finished 14-16 in ACC play and needed to win a play-in game in the ACC Tournament.

“I’ve been impressed with our freshmen the entire year,” said head coach Danny Hall, who had four of them — shortstop Connor Justus, third baseman Brandon Gold, catcher Arden Pabst and right fielder Ryan Peurifoy — in the starting lineup Sunday night with the season on the line.

The youngsters did their part for a Jackets team that had its difficulties, scoring in only three innings in the three games and managing only six runs and 27 hits, getting four of the runs and 12 of the hits against Jacksonville State.

Peurifoy and Gold each hit in all three tournament games — Matt Gonzalez was the only other Jacket to do so — with Peurifoy batting .444 (4-for-9), while Gold hit .273 (3-for-11).

Peurifoy played a big role in the win over Jacksonville State, going 2-for-2 and reaching base three times, while recording a key outfield assist.

“I’m not going to say I’m going to be the guy that’s going to win the game for us but I’m going to try to go out there and give my best effort, give my teammates the best opportunity to win the game,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and give it all I’ve got and try to help win us the ball game.”

Leading off the fifth, immediately after the Gamecocks took a 1-0 lead, he tripled and scored the tying run on a Mitch Earnest sac-fly. Two innings later, Peurifoy preserved the tie, gunning down first baseman Tyler Gamble, who tried to go first-to-third. His sixth outfield assist of the season kept the score tied until Tech could rally for three runs in the ninth.

Justus didn’t hit as well as he’d have liked in the regional, going hitless in nine ABs, but he drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk in the two-run first Sunday night against Washington. He never faltered at short, anchoring the infield for a defense that committed only one error (by Gonzalez in the opener) in the three games in Oxford and finished playing errorless ball in 19 of its final 35 games.

Tech continued to turn double plays, getting four more in the regional to finish with a school-record 77 (It’s ironic that a double-play by Washington, on a hard-hit ball hit by Gold that ended the first inning, turn out to be a crucial point in the game.).

Pabst finished his year by gunning down potential base-stealers at an alarming rate, including nailing all three Huskies in the Sunday night loss and getting four of six in the two games he played in the NCAAs, both against UW. He even got revenge on center fielder Braden Bishop and shortstop Erik Forgione, who’d swiped bags on him in the Friday opener.

On the mound, Ben Parr fired three hitless shutout innings at the Huskies in relief of starter Matt Grimes, giving Tech a chance. Parr finished allowing two or fewer runs in 17 of his 18 appearances and over his final five appearances allowed only 5 runs in his final 21 1/3 innings (a 2.11 ERA).

It was impossible to notice the impact of the freshman class.

“They’re definitely big-game guys for sure,” said Gonzalez. “Parr’s been great pitching, C.J.’s been one of the clutchest players we’ve had, and everybody from Arden catching great to Peurifoy just doing everything have been great.”

The Jackets will surely miss the experience, leadership and clutch performances of seniors Mott Hyde, ACC Tournament MVP Dusty Isaacs, Earnest and reliever Jonathan Roberts. But there is a lot to be excited about — even more now when you throw in the postseason experience the class of first-year players gained. It’s experience that will supplement their already superb pedigree.

“I think we’re very fortunate that a lot of the kids that we get a chance to coach here, even though they are freshmen, they’ve played in the Connie Mack World Series or they’ve played in big Perfect Game events,” Hall said. “Arden Pabst played for Team USA. Elliot Barzilli was in the Team USA trials. So a lot of those guys are pretty well battle-tested because they’ve played either with or against some of the top players in the country for many years.”

In the end, the 2014 Yellow Jackets didn’t get enough big hits, but they got people’s attention.

“I want to thank my team,” said Hall, in Sunday night’s postgame. “I felt like they played very hard and had some chances here tonight to try and get that hit to get back in the game and couldn’t quite do it.”

You can bet they’ll be back in 2015 a year older, a year better and a year more determined.

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