After Mark Teixeira jersey retirement, Virginia finishes sweep of Georgia Tech

Credit: Eldon Lindsay/Georgia Tech Athle

Credit: Eldon Lindsay/Georgia Tech Athle

A day that began with pomp ended with familiar disappointment.

After Georgia Tech legend Mark Teixeira was celebrated with the retirement of his jersey number, the Yellow Jackets lost their final regular-season game of the year, succumbing to top-25 Virginia by an 8-7 score Saturday afternoon at Russ Chandler Stadium. The Jackets, who could have significantly advanced their NCAA Tournament case with a series win over the Cavaliers, were instead swept in three games. They lost Saturday’s game in part by failing to score any runs after loading the bases with none out in the bottom of the fifth and one out in the bottom of the ninth. Four of the five jam-escaping outs in the two innings came via strikeout.

“We wish that we’d been better and put some balls in play,” coach Danny Hall said. “We kind of didn’t. They did.”

Tech (30-25, 12-18 ACC) is in the ACC Tournament that starts Tuesday in Durham, North Carolina, playing in a three-team pod with Virginia and North Carolina. To play in their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament and the 24th in Hall’s 30 seasons, the Jackets have no other option but to win the league championship, which will require winning both pool-play games and then the semifinals and title game.

“We’ve been in similar situations where we’ve gone there and won when people didn’t think we could win,” said Hall, whose ACC Tournament titles in 2012 and 2014 secured otherwise-unlikely NCAA berths.

Should they fall short in that mission, the Jackets will be left to endure the regret of what might have been in their final series of the regular season, when beating Virginia (44-11, 19-11) likely would have placed them on the precipice of earning an NCAA bid.

On Friday, the Jackets led 3-0 after the first inning and 5-4 going into the top of the seventh before the Cavaliers overcame them in a 10-6 decision to clinch the series.

On Saturday, trying to take at least one win over the NCAA-bound Cavaliers, Tech rallied to take a 5-3 lead after five innings. But, after holding the Cavaliers scoreless in his first three innings of relief, Dalton Smith gave up three runs in the top of the sixth to give Virginia a 6-5 lead. The Jackets tied the score in the bottom of the sixth on a Stephen Reid sacrifice fly, but Virginia then tagged reliever Camron Hill for single runs in the seventh and eighth. The Jackets generated 17 hits, but left 11 men on base.

“They have a top-five offense in the country, and they have a top-five pitching staff,” Hall said of the Cavaliers. “You tip your cap. I think we battled ‘em hard and had chances, in my mind, to win all three games. Just didn’t do enough to win ‘em.”

Superior series by left fielder Angelo DiSpigna (7-for-12, five runs, four RBIs) and designated hitter/pitcher Jackson Finley (8-for-14) went to waste.

“He works extremely hard, he buys into everything that we’re doing,” Hall said of DiSpigna, a Mercer transfer who is hitting .390 after a .252 season last year with the Bears. “He had a great year.”

It brought to an end a regular season that has joined the pattern of many Hall teams – a team that puts up runs with the best in Division I, but also allows them with similar frequency. Entering Saturday’s game, the Jackets ranked in the top 20 in Division I in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and scoring and also 216th (of 295 teams) in ERA and 235th in walks allowed per nine innings.

“Just didn’t play good enough,” Hall said of the regular season. “That’s the bottom line. As I’ve told (the team), where we finished this year, that’s not the standard. It’s not. And I’ll take full responsibility for that. Our team did not play good enough to win games that would have put us in contention to be at the top part of the league and then in contention to play in an NCAA regional. Now the only shot we have is to win the conference championship.”

Before Saturday’s game, Tech ranked fourth in the ACC in runs scored per game (8.5) and 13th in ERA (6.74). Should those rankings hold through the end of the season, it will be the third consecutive season in which Tech finishes in the top four in the conference in scoring and in the bottom two in ERA. The last time that the Jackets ranked higher in the conference in ERA than scoring (not counting the 2020 season canceled by the pandemic) was 2014.

Credit: Eldon Lindsay/Georgia Tech Athle

Credit: Eldon Lindsay/Georgia Tech Athle

Saturday’s game was not the ideal presentation following the recognition of Teixeira as only the 11th former Jackets athlete to have his or her jersey number retired.

Before the game, Teixeira and his wife, Leigh, entered the stadium chauffeured in the Ramblin’ Wreck, waving to fans from the rumble seat as they circled the field before completing their ride at home plate.

Tech president Ángel Cabrera, athletic director J Batt and football coach Brent Key, Teixeira’s close friend from their time together at Tech as fellow Jackets athletes, gathered with Hall and Teixeira’s family and friends on the field for the ceremony. A standing ovation from an announced crowd of 1,467 welcomed him to the field.

After a cloth draped over the right-field wall was pulled back to reveal Teixeira’s name and jersey number alongside those of Tech catching great Jason Varitek and former Tech player and coach Jim Luck, Teixeira addressed the crowd, thanking God, Hall (“you’re the GOAT, coach,” he said), Cabrera, his family and the fans in attendance. He called his three years at Tech “the most special of my life,” a time when he met his future wife as a freshman, was named the college player of the year as a sophomore and was drafted fifth overall in 2001 following his junior season.

“It’s just been an incredible ride,” Teixeira said.

For the season to keep going past next week, the Jackets will need something similar.