June 1, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Georgia Tech knew it would need a pitching hero other than Buck Farmer to win its NCAA Tournament Regional opener on Friday afternoon against College of Charleston.
It got one, but not the one most would have expected.
Sophomore Dusty Isaacs threw 5 1/3 shutout innings and Brandon Thomas and Jake Davies each blasted three-run homers as the Yellow Jackets topped the Cougars, 8-4, in the Gainesville Regional opener. Tech will play the winner of the Florida-Bethune-Cookman on Saturday night. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.
“Dusty Isaacs really settled the game,” said head coach Danny Hall. “Cole Pitts didn’t really have it today, but Dusty came in and got us out of a jam with a big out and put all zeros up there. It was a great pitching performance by Dusty.”
Isaacs said he was simply paying back Pitts. It paid off big-time for the Jackets.
“I wanted to go out, force contact and pound the strike zone,” said the sophomore right-hander, whose Friday appearance was only the fourth time all season he’d gone longer than five innings and the first time since April 1st against Duke, when he pitched six innings. “I was just glad to get in there and pick Cole up. All season the guy has been picking me up, so I was kind of glad to return the favor for Cole. With this being the first game of the tournament, it’s always good to try and save your bullpen. I am glad that I was the guy that got to go out there and do it – it felt pretty good.”
Isaacs not only cooled off a sizzling Charleston lineup, holding them to three hits, but also extinguished any heat of second-guessers that may have questioned not using Farmer.
Hall raised some eyebrows — and perhaps some ire in the opposing clubhouse — by not starting his ace.
The Cougars, as if on a mission to prove Hall had disrespected them, came out swinging, peppering Pitts for four runs (three earned) and 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings. It was his second-shortest outing since joining the rotation in late March and the 10 hits were a season-high.
The damage could have been worse, but in the first inning Tech’s defense made two key defensive plays to help limit the damage. The Jackets cut down Charleston’s Brandon Murray as he tried to stretch his RBI single to right into a double. Three batters later, Mott Hyde’s sliding stop to keep a ground ball on the infield saved a run and allowed Pitts to pitch out of a bases-loaded jam. Charleston had managed one run despite five hits.
“Those were both huge. It was kind of a wake-up call when they put a run on the board in the first inning,” said Brandon Thomas, who went 4-for-4, with a three-run homer and two runs scored. “Those defensive plays kept them at one and allowed us to come in and not feel like we’re down by too much.”
Tech took the lead in its half of the first, as with two on and two out, and a runner at first, Thomas worked a walk off Charleston starter Christian Powell. ACC Tournament MVP Davies continued his hot hitting, blasting the first pitch he saw over the wall in right.
Charleston tied it in the second on a two-run homer by Marty Gantt, but Tech once again used two-out thunder to regain the lead in its half. Kyle Wren reached when his chopper off the plate was misplayed. After a gritty at-bat by Sam Dove resulted in an RBI single, Thomas stepped up and drilled the first pitch he saw out to right. The three-run homer put Tech up 8-3.
In the fourth, the Cougars again rallied, bunching two hits and a walk cut the lead in half.
“I wouldn’t really say I was under pressure,” said Isaacs, whose last two appearances have come in support of Pitts — they also combined in the 17-5 rout of Virginia in the ACC Tournament. “I saw as the game was going that maybe I would be getting down there early.”
The early-season Sunday starter turned reliever stepped in and quelled the uprising by striking out third baseman Rob Harding.
Thomas had no question that Isaacs was the right man for the job.
“He’s been coming on strong. It’s nice for our team and it’s nice for Dusty,” he said. “He did a great job of throwing strikes and kept the other hitters off-balance. He kept them where they were, so it was real nice for our team.”
Isaacs came into the game with a 7.12 ERA, but has pitched to a 2.51 ERA over his last five appearances, covering 14 2/3 innings.
“Something that I have really been working on lately is getting ahead in the count and getting a strike on the first pitch,” he said. “I had a really good feel for my slider today – that is something I have also been struggling with. I have worked hard to get those pitches back and pound the strike zone. I had pretty good command of my pitches today. I’m just trying to force contact and let the other eight guys behind me do their jobs.”
Charleston, which left seven men on base over the first four innings, got four base runners over the final five frames and had as many as two base runners on base in the same inning once — in the seventh, helped when Isaacs hit a batter, about his only miscue.
With that first win in their pocket, the Jackets can now play from the winner’s bracket. While that might mean facing host Florida, they’ll go in confident, knowing their bats are still hot and Farmer will take the ball.
“I’m excited to face whoever we face tomorrow,” said Thomas. “I think Buck’s going to do what Buck always does and I think our hitters are locked in. So it should be fun.”