As Georgia dug into Georgia Tech’s lead and repeatedly threatened to take back the game, Yellow Jackets coach Danny Hall held an objective. Just get to the eighth inning with the lead and hand the game over to Tristin English, his star two-way player.
“That’s what you were trying to get to,” Hall said. “You’re trying to get to that, knowing that you have him sitting there to throw two innings. But it’s not easy getting there.”
Tech was indeed able to get the baton to English, who did as hoped for the Jackets. He closed down No. 4 Georgia over the final two innings, helping No. 11 Tech tie down an 8-6 win over the Bulldogs on Tuesday night at SunTrust Park in the two teams’ annual benefit game for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The Jackets claimed the season series, two games to one, for the first time since 2015.
It was a most gratifying win for the Jackets, who had lost six games in a row to their archrivals coming into the season.
“It’s awesome,” English said. “It’s something I haven’t been able to do since I’ve been here, being in my fourth year. It’s finally something I can say, we run this state. I’ve been hearing it for four years now, so it’s nice to be able to say it myself.”
It arguably is the most meaningful series win between Tech and Georgia going back at least 10 years. Beyond playing for bragging rights, Georgia is trying to earn a top-eight seed for the NCAA tournament to stay home for a potential super-regional series while the Jackets want to be home for the regional round for the first time since 2011.
Being only one of two teams thus far to beat the Bulldogs in a series, albeit one played in three midweek games, will undoubtedly be an impressive bullet point on the Jackets’ résumé. In their two wins, Tech (28-13) hung 19 runs against the team leading the country in ERA.
“I just think we feel like we can compete with anybody, and I think that’s why we won (Tuesday), and that’s why we’ve won against some really good teams all year,” Hall said.
It was an entertaining, if lengthy (3:44) game played before 18,861, the largest attendance for a college baseball game this year by more than 6,000.
For Georgia (33-9), it was a night to rue opportunities squandered. Down 6-2 after two innings and 7-2 after three (Tech catcher Kyle McCann supplied a mammoth three-run home run to right in the second), the Bulldogs scored three in the fourth but left the bases loaded when Tech pitcher Micah Carpenter got Riley King to ground out to third. Georgia loaded the bases again in the fifth, this time with one out, but Luke Bartnicki ended the threat with a strikeout of Patrick Sullivan and a flyout from Mason Meadows.
“We gave them way too many free bases (nine walks) and we had some really poor at-bats when we had the opportunities,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said.
The ability of Carpenter, Bartnicki and Hugh Chapman to obtain key outs got the game to English, one of the top two-way players in the country with a .310 batting average and four saves coming into the game. Powering through the UGA lineup with a bevy of fastballs, he finished off the Bulldogs in the ninth in order.
“To be able to come out there in a game like this – back and forth, a lot of momentum shifting – and to be able to come in and be the guy – I know the team wanted me in there, I wanted to be in there – feels awesome,” English said.
How he retired Georgia in the eighth inning was not without controversy. In a hinge point of the game, English faced No. 3 hitter Aaron Schunk with two on and two out. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Schunk hit a slow bouncer to shortstop Luke Waddell, whose throw to first was ahead of Schunk. However, first baseman Michael Guldberg came off the base to catch the ball, perhaps before he caught it. It would typically be a play that the umpiring crew could review on video replay, but there was no replay system available for the teams to use.
Georgia was out of luck.
“No instant replay, so there’s nothing we can do,” Stricklin said.
Instead of a possible bases-loaded, two-out scenario down 8-6 with cleanup hitter L.J. Talley at the plate had a.) a replay system been available; b) said system deemed Schunk safe, Georgia got nothing.
“I’m just glad we don’t have review,” English said, smiling. “I heard (Guldberg) might have been on the base, but it’s something I don’t want to question.”
Another Tech star – Waddell, who was 3-for-4 with three RBIs. In three games against the Bulldogs, Waddell was 6-for-9 with five runs, five RBIs and three walks.
“Just getting some good pitches to hit, really just sticking to my approach, not trying to do too much,” he said.
In three games, Tech outscored Georgia 21-20. The Bulldogs collected 30 hits to the Jackets’ 21.
“I fully expect we’re going to see them again somewhere,” Hall said. “That’ll be a whole different level of competition, and two good teams going at it.”
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