A most unlikely play felled Georgia Tech a third time this season against rival Georgia Tuesday night. In the top of the ninth, Georgia’s Mitchell Webb scored from first on a single to center to give the Bulldogs the winning run in an 8-7 victory in the teams’ first-ever meeting at the new SunTrust Park. Georgia earned a 3-0 sweep of the Yellow Jackets, its first over Tech in a season series of three games or more since 1984.
After Webb was walked by Micah Carpenter in the top of the ninth with none on and two out, Keegan McGovern singled to shallow center, where centerfielder Ryan Peurifoy bobbled the ball and then casually tossed it into the infield to second baseman Wade Bailey. With a great jump, that was all the margin that Webb needed. Never slowing down, Webb was waved home by third-base coach Scott Daeley and dove home safe, well ahead of Bailey’s relay, with what proved to be the game-winning run.
Georgia (20-29) can claim the title of state’s best (although the Bulldogs went 0-2 against Mercer) for the second year in a row. Tech (24-22) saw a three-game winning streak come to an end on a night when the Jackets repeatedly missed opportunities.
“That’s one of the (goals), when we come into the season, to win the series against Tech,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “That’s one of our goals, and to win all three, that’s a big deal. It’s a big deal to our players, it’s a big deal to our alumni, our fans. So, yeah, it means a lot to us.”
UGA benefits from critical call
Webb got on base for the game-winning run via a controversial play. In the top of the ninth, with none on and two out, Webb faced a 3-2 count against Carpenter. He foul tipped the pitch, which Tech catcher Kyle McCann appeared to catch for the third strike. It would have ended the inning and brought the Jackets to the plate with the chance for a walk-off win. However, home-plate umpire Craig Barron ruled that it wasn’t a clean catch, extending the at-bat.
Tech coach Danny Hall rushed onto the field to vehemently argue the call. Hall said after the game that Barron told him that McCann caught the ball off the dirt.
“The only two guys that thought the ball bounced were the home-plate umpire and the first-base umpire,” Hall said. “Everybody else on our side had strike three and the catch. I asked my catcher, he thought he caught it. I asked Micah Carpenter, my pitcher, he thought he caught it. I thought he caught it, but my opinion doesn’t count.”
Webb’s perspective was different.
“I know for sure I tipped it, and then I heard the ball hit dirt,” he said. “I didn’t see it, obviously, but I heard dirt and I guess the umpire did, too.”
Mistakes and missed chances
Even after Webb’s walk, Tech allowed Georgia to seize opportunity. After Barron’s ruling, Carpenter still had Webb, a .221 hitter going into the game, at 3-2 before walking him. Carpenter then gave up the single to McGovern. And Peurifoy failed to return the ball to the infield quickly. Webb smartly kept running and Daeley, seeing the casual throw, waved him home.
“Oh, it’s rare, very rare,” Hall said of a runner scoring from first on a single. “Mistake on our part and they took advantage of it.”
Mistakes helped do in the Jackets. Tech pitchers issued five walks, one intentional. Tech pitcher Connor Thomas, making the first appearance of his college career after regaining academic eligibility at the end of the semester, fueled Georgia’s two-run sixth with a wild pitch and a two-base error on an errant pickoff attempt. The Jackets left 11 runners on base.
“Disappointing loss, quite honestly,” Hall said. “I don’t think we played really well. I thought we did a good job of coming back, getting back in the game. We just made too many mistakes to come out of here with a win.”
Georgia scored its first five runs on a sacrifice fly, infield single, sacrifice fly, wild pitch and bunt for a hit. In their first 48 games, the Bulldogs had averaged .7 sacrifice hits and flies per game. Against Tech, Georgia scored or moved along runners with sacrifices four times, a season high. Austin Biggar, the 9-hole hitter, put down two textbook sacrifice bunts – both of which led to runs. In the top of the sixth, after Tech had taken a 4-3 lead, he had a surprise two-out bunt down the third-base line for a base hit that scored a run to regain the lead, 5-4.
Biggar had had two sacrifice hits all season prior to Tuesday. The bunt for a hit was what Stricklin termed a “suggestion” from the dugout after noticing third baseman Trevor Craport playing back with two outs.
“I guarantee that’s the first drag bunt base hit of his life,” Stricklin said. “There’s no way that he’s ever done that before.”
Looking for momentum
Tech and Georgia are both contending for one of the last spots in their respective conference tournaments. At 7-17 in the SEC, the Bulldogs are one game behind Tennessee for the 12th and final spot in their league tournament, but have some momentum from a series win at then-No. 4 Kentucky this past weekend. They play Mississippi State, a consensus top-10 team, at home this weekend and at South Carolina, a likely NCAA Tournament team, the following weekend.
“The biggest thing is our guys starting to have a little bit of belief,” Stricklin said. “We’ve lost some heartbreakers. We’ve lost games this year that I’ve never seen games lost that way.”
Beating Kentucky, he said, “showed our team’s growing up a little bit.”
After sweeping Pittsburgh Saturday through Monday, Tech is tied with Duke for ninth in the ACC at 9-15, just ahead of Notre Dame at 10-17 and Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech at 8-16. The ACC Tournament field is also 12 teams. The Jackets play the Blue Devils in Durham, N.C., this weekend and finish at home against Virginia. Any slim hopes that Georgia Tech has of making the NCAA Tournament virtually require the Jackets to be in the ACC Tournament.
Peurifoy’s mistake in the field overshadowed a strong night at the plate, 3-for-4, including a bases-loaded double in the fifth for Tech’s first three runs. Tim Elliott (1-0) got the win for Georgia, while Carpenter (0-1) took the loss.
Attendance was announced at 23,737, which likely overstated the number of fans who were actually in SunTrust Park. Nevertheless, the attendance was the third largest in the 15-game history of the annual benefit game for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.