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Georgia Tech clinches ACC Coastal baseball championship

Georgia Tech's baseball team celebrates an 11-10 walk-off win over North Carolina on April 6, 2019. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)
Georgia Tech's baseball team celebrates an 11-10 walk-off win over North Carolina on April 6, 2019. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Picked to finish fifth in the ACC Coastal Division before the season began, Georgia Tech’s baseball team clinched the outright division title Friday night with the combination of a 2-0 win over Pitt and losses by second-place teams Miami and North Carolina.

It’s the Yellow Jackets’ first division title since 2011. Tech coach Danny Hall’s team had finished fourth or fifth in the seven ensuing seasons, finishing .500 once and under .500 six times in league play. With Friday’s win – secured by a two-hit, 93-pitch shutout by Connor Thomas – the No. 6 Jackets elevated their overall record to 38-15 and 19-10 in ACC play.

By beating Pitt in the first two games of the series (the series concludes Saturday at Russ Chandler Stadium at 1 p.m. in the regular-season finale), Tech finishes the regular season with nine ACC series wins out of 10 total, a school record. The Jackets lost the first league series and then won the final nine.

“Nine out of 10, we’ll take that any year,” said Hall, who is a strong candidate to be named ACC coach of the year for the fourth time in his tenure.

Against Pitt on Friday, Thomas nailed down the fifth complete game of his career. In addition to giving up just two hits, he walked only one and faced 30 batters, three over the minimum. He retired 14 consecutive batters at one point. Thomas is now 9-1 with a 3.11 ERA.

“I hope it kind of escalates him into being the pitcher of the year in our conference,” Hall told reporters after the game.

By winning the Coastal, Tech has secured at least the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament that starts Tuesday in Durham, N.C. The Jackets could earn the No. 1 seed Saturday if they beat Pitt and Louisville loses to Florida State. It would leave both teams at 20-10 in league play, with Tech winning the tiebreaker by virtue of its series win over the Cardinals in March.

After the ACC tournament, Tech will return to the NCAA tournament after missing the postseason the past two years. The Jackets are in strong position to be at home for the regional round, which would be the first time since 2011. Tech is No. 8 in RPI and also is in contention to earn a top-eight seed, which would enable the Jackets to be at home for the super-regional round if they were to advance out of regionals.

It has been a season that few predicted. The Jackets finished last season 31-27 and lost catcher Joey Bart as the No. 2 pick in the major-league draft. But, with development of a number of players, increased depth in the pitching staff, better health and a more focused approach at the plate, Tech has morphed into a powerhouse.

Entering Friday’s game, Tech’s team batting average had risen from .291 to .301, while the team’s walks-per-game rate had jumped from 4.3 to 5.9 and runs per game from 6.5 to 7.7. ERA had dropped from 4.95 to 4.65.

Two-way player Tristin English (.324 batting average, 57 RBI, team-high five saves) could be named ACC player of the year, which would give Tech back-to-back winners, including Bart.