It was English’s final contribution of a day that started with a two-run homer that cleared the bull sign (modeled after the one in the movie “Bull Durham”) beyond the left-field fence and also included two innings of hitless relief. His ninth-inning adversary, Girard, entered the game with a .162 opponent batting average and a 1.30 ERA. He was pitching three days after throwing 49 pitches of relief against Notre Dame.
“With a short porch out there in left, my approach for the most part is hit the ball in the air out there and at least give it a chance,” English said. “The guy has a really good slider, so I went up there sitting on it, figured he was going to throw it. He threw it. When I hit it, I was just hoping it would at least be far enough to hit off the wall. And then I really wanted it to go over. Just didn’t have enough juice.”
Tech (40-16) will play No. 3-seed N.C. State at 5 p.m. Saturday for a spot in Sunday’s final. (No. 12-seed Boston College and No. 5 seed North Carolina are on the other side of the bracket.) The win over Duke (31-25) advanced the Jackets out of pool play for the first time since 2014, when they won the most recent of their nine ACC titles.
A season that began with a projection for fifth place in the Coastal Division has accumulated another testament to the tenacity that has defined this team. The win moved Tech to No. 8 in RPI, further establishing its credentials to be a top-eight seed for the NCAA tournament, which would keep the Jackets home for both the regional and super-regional rounds.
English’s walk-off hit graced a day in which the Jackets did enough to merit defeat. All-ACC pitcher Connor Thomas gave up three runs in the first, uncharacteristically giving up a walk, a hit batsman and two run-scoring singles on 0-2 counts. The last time he had given up more than two runs in an inning was in the fifth game of the season.
English’s first-inning home run and a mammoth two-run bomb to right by Kyle McCann in the third leveled the score at 4-4, but then the Jackets stranded two each in the fourth, fifth and sixth and one each in the seventh and eighth. After a leadoff double in the eighth, Colin Hall failed to advance to third on a sacrifice-bunt try and was stranded.
But, with Luke Bartnicki and English limiting the Blue Devils to one hit and no runs after Thomas’ six innings and the defense playing error-free, English had the stage to deliver the Jackets in the ninth. It was Tech’s fourth walk-off win of the season and its 10th one-run win against four losses.
“You knew it was going to come down to somebody getting on and getting in scoring position and then somebody had to get a big hit,” coach Danny Hall said. “Just happy it was Tristin.”
Hall was speaking at the postgame news conference, sitting next to a dirty-uniformed English. His toothy grin indicated he felt the same.