Georgia Tech's Deck McGuire has put the Yellow Jackets one step closer to the College World Series.
McGuire struck out six in eight innings, and Jacob Esch drove in three runs to lead the Yellow Jackets to a 5-2 win over Alabama on Saturday in the NCAA regional at Russ Chandler Stadium. Tech (47-13) must win one more game to host a super regional next week whose best-of-three winner will advance to Omaha. The next step begins at 7 p.m. Sunday, when Tech will play the winner of the 3 p.m. loser's bracket game between the Crimson Tide and Mercer, which eliminated Elon 13-7. Brandon Cumpton (9-2, 4.95 ERA) will pitch for the Jackets.
"I told the team that was the best game that we've played all year, top to bottom," Tech coach Danny Hall said.
Saturday's game between the regional's two highest seeds was supposed to be a pitchers' duel between one of the ACC's best, the right-handed McGuire, and one of the SEC's best, right-hander Jimmy Nelson. The duo entered the game with 16 wins and more than 200 strikeouts between them.
But Tech put up five runs in 5 2/3 innings on Nelson (8-4) and should have had more if not for some bad breaks and bad base-running.
Cole Leonida and Chase Burnette singled to start the sixth inning. Right fielder Andrew Miller misplayed the ball to allow the runners to advance to second and third. Miller made up for the error when the next batter, Thomas Nichols, hit a shot to right field that looked as if it were going out. Instead, the ball hit the top of the wall and bounced back in. Miller alertly caught the ball, which was ruled a single, and threw to Josh Rutledge, who gunned down Leonida at home. Leonida had tagged on the play, and then re-tagged when he saw Miller catch the carom.
But Esch, who has the lowest batting average (.270) among Tech's starters, came through with a laser to center field to score the two runners and give Tech a 5-2 lead. Afterward Hall said sometimes it's the guys you least expect who come through in the postseason.
"[It was the] best [pitch] I was going to get in that at-bat, and I went after it," Esch said.
From there, McGuire (9-4) and Andrew Robinson (eight saves) combined to shut down the Tide, who had won nine of their previous 10 games.
"McGuire hit a second gear late when they got the lead and didn't let us get into an offensive rhythm," Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said.
Tech opened the scoring in the second with a home run by Burnette that was hit so hard that people sitting on the wall beyond the right-field fence didn't even look up as the ball sailed over their heads. His 16th of the season tied the school's single-season team record (119) set in 1987.
Despite needing just three pitchers to win the first two games, Hall said the team isn't done.
"Our goal is to win three," Hall said, "we haven't finished the job yet."
Mercer (38-23), the fourth seed, looked nothing like the team that was steamrolled 10-0 by Tech in its opener. Five Bears' relievers combined to allow three runs in the last 4 2/3 innings to secure the the first NCAA tournament win in the team's history. Coach Craig Gibson said he likely will start right-hander Justice French (3-3, 6.09 ERA) in Sunday's first game.
Where: Russ Chandler Stadium
3 p.m.: Mercer (38-23) vs. Alabama (38-23) ; loser eliminated
7 p.m.: Georgia Tech (47-13) vs. Alabama-Mercer winner
7 p.m.: if necessary