June 1, 2019 Atlanta - Georgia Tech outfielder Nick Wilhite (31) celebrates with teammates after he scored on a RBI double by Georgia Tech infielder Luke Waddell (7) in the second inning during the second game of the NCAA regionals at Russ Chandler Stadium in Georgia Tech campus on Saturday, June 1, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Huge comeback earns Jackets rematch with Auburn

The grit and tenacity that has defined Georgia Tech’s season got their biggest test of the season Sunday afternoon, and the Yellow Jackets were not found wanting for either.

In an elimination game played 14 hours after losing on a walk-off home run to Auburn, No. 1 seed Tech rallied from a five-run deficit to knock out No. 3 seed Coastal Carolina, 10-8, in a wild game at Tech’s NCAA regional, a game that included a protest by Jackets coach Danny Hall, an ejection of Coastal Carolina pitching coach Drew Thomas and a critical triple by catcher Kyle McCann, just his second in more than 500 career at-bats.

Tech (43-18) moved on to the regional final to play No. 2 seed Auburn at 6 p.m., less than two hours after the end of the win over Coastal Carolina. The Jackets will need to beat the Tigers on Sunday and again on Monday in order to advance to their first super-regional since 2006.

Freshman Cort Roedig (2-2, 5.32 ERA in 44 innings, .206 opponent batting average) will start for the Jackets. Hall also said it was a “longshot” that Xzavion Curry, who has started 10 games but has been out since late April with shoulder inflammation, will pitch against the Tigers.

Auburn will start Bailey Horn (3-0, 7.56 ERA, .260 opponent batting average in 25 innings).

Tech improved to 15-3 in games following a loss. The Jackets were 1-12 when trailing after the sixth inning, as they were against Coastal Carolina. 

In front of a small but vocal crowd, the Jackets had a bleak outlook not long after the noon first pitch. Starter Keyton Gibson lasted only seven batters, giving up four hits and two walks and leaving with the score 3-0. The lead grew to 4-0 on a sacrifice fly against Gibson’s replacement, Luke Bartnicki.

The Chanticleers (36-26-1) grew the lead to 7-2 in the bottom of the fourth in a strange half-inning. Designated hitter Cameron Pearcey reached base on a walk and then advanced to second on a balk by Bartnicki, who paused during his delivery, apparently hearing a fan yell “Balk” from behind the first-base stands and believing it was the first-base umpire. Coach Danny Hall lodged an official protest, but after three umpires returned to their locker room to consult with the NCAA secretary rules editor, it was deemed that “this was not a protestable situation,” according to a statement from said official, Randy Bruns. Security then cleared the plaza area where fans were lined up along the fence down the right-field line.

“There is no rule for a fan yelling ‘Balk,’” Hall said after the game. “Luke made a mistake and stopped when he heard ‘balk.’ The guy who yelled balk was kind of positioned close behind the (first-base) umpire so he thought it was the umpire who yelled it. Quite honestly, it’s more of a mistake on Luke.”

Meanwhile, Tech was spinning its wheels, loading the bases in the fourth and fifth but failing to score. But the Jackets, whose gritty play has fueled their best season since 2011, did not buckle.

The Jackets broke through for two in the sixth and then piled on five in the top of the seventh to take a 9-7 lead. After loading the bases for the fourth inning in a row, Kyle McCann tripled off the right-field wall to tie the game at 7. Tristin English continued his scalding play in the regional by doubling him in, and English came in on a single by Colin Hall against a drawn-in infield for a 9-7 lead.

“We kind of felt like we were going to cut into it,” Hall said. “We kept getting opportunities to cut into it. If you keep giving McCann and English and some of those guys chances to do damage, they’re going to figure out a way to do some damage.”

It was during that inning that Thomas, the Chanticleers pitching coach, was ejected during a mound visit. After the game, coach Gary Gilmore declined to reveal the explanation that he was given, but expressed his frustration that Thomas was not able to make a planned pitching change.

“I’ll be the first one to tell you I don’t know that rulebook inside and out, but when you throw that guy out and you don’t allow us to change pitchers, I don’t understand that,” Gilmore said. “That’s a really screwed-up situation.”

Michael Guldberg was the next batter up after the ejection and ensuing delay, and he hit Dylan Gentry’s first pitch for a single to load the bases. Jay Causey replaced Gentry, and McCann smashed his first pitch off the wall for his triple.

In the bottom of the seventh, English moved over from first base to take over for Jonathan Hughes and finished out the game, striking out Parker Chavers to end the game. English made one of the plays of the game from the mound against the first batter he faced.

With the bases loaded and none out, Scott McKeon hit a rocket up the middle that English was able to reach out and deflect with his glove, a ball hit so hard that it knocked his glove off. The ball bounced to second baseman Austin Wilhite, who was able to turn a double play. Had it gone through, it potentially could have scored two runs to tie the game and put runners on the corners with none out. Instead, one run scored on the double play and English ended the inning by striking out the next batter.

“I don’t know how in the world he got his glove up,” Gilmore said.

Hughes was deservingly awarded the win, giving up one run in 2-2/3 innings with one hit, no walks and three strikeouts.

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