After win over Alabama State, what’s next for Georgia Tech?

Georgia Tech center fielder Colin Hall (sunglasses) celebrates with first baseman Andrew Jenkins (No. 10) after Hall's home run against Alabama State in an NCAA regional tournament game June 4, 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn. (Georgia Tech Athletics/Gage Jenkins)

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Georgia Tech center fielder Colin Hall (sunglasses) celebrates with first baseman Andrew Jenkins (No. 10) after Hall's home run against Alabama State in an NCAA regional tournament game June 4, 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn. (Georgia Tech Athletics/Gage Jenkins)

Knoxville, Tenn. – Georgia Tech got through its first elimination game Saturday at its NCAA regional, knocking out SWAC champion Alabama State 13-4 in a losers bracket game.

The Yellow Jackets hope that it’s only the start of a long climb to their first NCAA regional championship since 2006. To win the regional, Tech will need to win three more games in about a 24-hour period.

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Sunday at 2 p.m. at Tennessee’s Lindsey Nelson Stadium, Tech will play third-seeded Campbell, which lost to top-seeded Tennessee 12-7.

“Obviously, Campbell’s fresh in our minds,” coach Danny Hall said before he knew his team’s next opponent. “We’ll watch Tennessee again and see who wins and loses in that game, but we’ve just got to move on to the next game and do everything we can at 2 o’clock (Sunday) to win that game and then you win that you move on to the next one.”

Hall plans to send ace Marquis Grissom Jr. to the mound for the Sunday afternoon game. Were the Jackets to win, they would play Tennessee Sunday at 7 p.m. If they were to win that game, the same teams would meet again Monday at 1 p.m. in a winner-take-all game.

Campbell will start Jonathan Beymer, who has appeared in 17 games this season and has made three starts. In 46 1/3 innings, he has a 5.05 ERA and a .270 opponent batting average. The Camels have not used regular starter Aaron Rund (14 appearances, 13 starts, 5.53 ERA, .283 opponent batting average). It’s conceivable that Campbell coach Justin Haire is making a play to beat Tech without Rund and save him for a regional championship matchup with Tennessee. Notably, Beymer has allowed only three home runs this season.

Tennessee started SEC pitcher of the year Chase Dollander Saturday against Campbell but he lasted only 2 2/3 innings. The Volunteers’ 2.31 ERA going into the game led Division I. Drew Beam (2.60 ERA) did not pitch Saturday and Chase Burns (2.69 ERA) went 1 1/3 innings.

While Tech’s staff can’t compare with Tennessee’s performance this season, Hall felt good about the arms he had at the ready after Jackets starter Chance Huff went seven innings in the win over Alabama State, requiring only two innings from Jackson Finley in relief.

“We feel like we’re in a good spot,” Hall said. “We haven’t thrown (Zach) Maxwell yet. (Dawson) Brown didn’t throw a bunch of pitches (Friday). Still have some lefties that haven’t pitched that we can use.”

Tech’s best-case scenario for Sunday afternoon would be, obviously, for the Jackets to win, but also for Grissom to go deep into the game, and then have a near-full complement of arms for the Sunday night game.

Maxwell has a 5.96 ERA in 20 appearances this season (15 in relief) and 45 1/3 innings, but has a .232 opponent batting average. Brown, who has a 7.85 ERA but has thrown better in the second half of the season, threw 32 pitches against Campbell on Friday.

Should Tech somehow make it to a Monday regional championship game, Hall said that John Medich, who was the Friday starter, would be available. Medich threw 43 pitches in 1 2/3 innings in his shortest start of the season.

Hall all but ruled out any availability for Huff, who threw a career-high 106 pitches against Alabama State, from pitching again this weekend. He half-jokingly added the caveat “maybe I shouldn’t say never.”

But in the case of pitchers like Medich who had thrown in the 30-40 range, “you’re going to pitch ‘em trying to win if you think they can get some outs,” he said.

Schedule strength favors Tech over Tennessee

One reason for Tech fans to have a glimmer of hope in a potential matchup with Tennessee and its vaunted pitching staff – in assembling the lowest ERA in Division I, the Volunteers competed against a schedule that was ranked 50th in the country. Tech’s schedule, by comparison, was ranked sixth.

None of the teams that Tennessee faced in a three-game series in a regular season were ranked in the top 60 in runs per game prior to the start of the tournament. Tech was ranked fourth at 9.3 runs per game.

Further, the Jackets achieved that mark while playing five series against ACC opponents who were in the top 45 in ERA.

Of course, it’s not as though a comparatively weaker schedule is entirely the reason for such a low ERA. But, statistically speaking, the Volunteers have also not faced an offense of Tech’s caliber this season.

The highest-ranked team in ERA that Tech faced in the regular season was Virginia, 17th at 4.03. The Jackets scored 24 runs in three games (while giving up 35) in losing the series two games to one.

Grateful for the opportunity

Alabama State players made an impression in their post-game interview following their loss to Tech on Saturday. Hornets left fielder Jabronski Williams called playing in an environment like their Friday night game against Tennessee, which had an attendance of 4,340, “stuff you pray about as a kid.” The Hornets’ home stadium has a capacity of 500.

Said Williams, “It was just a blessing (to play in the regional). The fans were great. It was a great atmosphere.”

First baseman Chris Lewis said that his team playing at Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament was fulfillment of destiny.

“We manifested this whole situation,” he said. “We were sitting in the house way before the season even started. We said, ‘We’ll win the (SWAC) championship, we’ll play Tennessee.’”

Coach Jose’ Vazquez took pride in his team’s effort against Tennessee, the overall No. 1 seed, and Tech. In the bottom of the second inning against Tech, the Hornets were up 2-1 and had two runners on with one out and a chance to build on the lead, but were not able to capitalize. The Hornets lost 10-0 to the Volunteers Friday night, managing four hits.

“We’re talking about teams from the SEC, we’re talking about teams from the ACC, teams that have great traditions that have been to the College World Series before,” he said. “But one thing that I think we showed was that we weren’t intimidated. We just did a great job staying in the moment and we just fell short executing certain things in certain situations, but that’s just baseball.”

Alabama State won its first SWAC title since 2016 and just its second in school history.

“I’m thankful,” Williams said. “That’s all I can say right now. My emotions haven’t hit me yet, but I don’t know if they’re going to hit me (Saturday) or (Sunday) or what, but I’m just thankful. At the end of the day, like (Vazquez) says, we’re still champions. Like he said, we’re fixing to go get ringed up. That was my goal. And everything else was just extra. It was icing on the cake, coming in here, playing in front of the big crowd. I went out with a bang. I can’t complain.”