On Georgia Tech’s way to its 27-22 record, there have been more than a few regrets.
The Yellow Jackets have two one-run losses to teams in the top 10 of the RPI (Clemson and North Carolina). They lost 9-6 at N.C. State (No. 19 in RPI) by giving up six runs in the eighth, five of them scored after there were two outs and none on. They were swept by Georgia (No. 4) in three games in which they had chances despite hitting .194 in the series.
“It has been pretty frustrating,” pitcher/first baseman Tristin English said, “because pretty much we can pinpoint one play or one inning that’s kind of cost us most of our losses in the year. It’s not like we can go, ‘Man, I don’t know what happened.’ We know exactly what happened.”
It leaves the Jackets, with seven games remaining in the regular season, on the NCAA Tournament bubble with a lot of work to do. Tech begins the homestretch Friday with a three-game series at Virginia. Tech coach Danny Hall believes that the Jackets need to win both of their final two series, against Virginia and then against Duke next weekend, as well as a Tuesday non-conference game against Southeast Missouri State. Tech may have to do more work in the ensuing ACC Tournament.
“Definitely, these next two weeks are going to be more, every game’s a playoff game,” second baseman Wade Bailey, who is hitting .361 in Tech’s past 17 games. “So every game matters just to have that résumé looking good enough for (NCAA) regionals because (we) definitely, definitely want to make that.”
After making 28 NCAA appearances in a 30-year span (1985-2014), the Jackets have missed the postseason two of the past three seasons. At 11-13 in ACC play, Tech is trying for its first winning season in league play since 2011.
“I’ve only had one regional appearance, my sophomore year, down at Florida,” said Bailey, a senior. “This is my last chance at it. I definitely want to try to make a run for this, end on a good note.”
Injuries have waylaid Tech in recent seasons, and have taken a bite out of the lineup this season, as well. Coach Danny Hall has gotten a total of 96 at-bats from three would-be starters (Michael Guldberg, Kel Johnson and Carter Hall, the coach’s son) who together have hit .313 with six home runs in those plate appearances. Two other contributors, third baseman Luke Waddell and reliever Will Shirah, also have been shelved with injuries.
“So it’s little things like that you’re not counting on when the season started,” Danny Hall said. “But it happens and you try to adjust and, that being said, we’re still right here. We’re right here. So we’ve just got to keep moving.”
That said, the Jackets have had difficulty finding consistency with pitching, hitting and defense.
“You hope you can put it all together to where all nine guys in that lineup are humming pretty good, all the pitchers that you’re putting in there are confident, throwing strikes, and that you’re playing pretty good defense,” Hall said. “It seems like we haven’t been able to gel all that at the same time on a consistent basis.”
Tech has shown it occasionally, sweeping Miami and then taking two of three from Florida State (No. 8) in back-to-back weekends. But not nearly enough to have wrapped up an NCAA berth by this point.
“It’s kind of been that way all year,” Bailey said. “If we can get those timed up together, I think we can beat any team out there.”
Tech has solved one problem that has been a weak point in recent years, its starting pitching, notably with its 1-2 punch of Xzavion Curry (3.50 ERA) and Connor Thomas (3.20 ERA). But the bullpen has been particularly ineffective, with an ERA of 5.49, compared with 4.27 for the starting pitchers. Hall called it “a guessing game of what am I getting out of this guy when I stick him in the game. That’s just the way it’s been, quite honestly.”
At 25-20, Virginia is not its typical Top 25 self, but has won the past four series against Tech in Charlottesville, Va. Duke has won six of eight ACC series thus far, and the past two against the Jackets.
If Tech is indeed worthy of an NCAA bid, it’ll have to prove it against quality competition.
“I’m always optimistic,” Hall said. “So, yeah, you’ve got to be optimistic, you’ve got to be positive and you’ve got to go play.”