Before facing Louisville to decide pool winner, Tech faces Clemson

The Georgia Tech baseball team gathers together at Mac Nease Baseball Park on April 25, 2021, when the Yellow Jackets defeated Florida State 9-8. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

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The Georgia Tech baseball team gathers together at Mac Nease Baseball Park on April 25, 2021, when the Yellow Jackets defeated Florida State 9-8. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech’s opening game of the ACC Tournament will be of virtually no consequence for either team. The Yellow Jackets will play Clemson in their opening game of pool play.

Because of Clemson’s loss to Louisville on Tuesday on the first day of the tournament in Charlotte, N.C., and the structure of the tournament, whether the Jackets win or lose will have no impact on whether they advance out of pool play. Hence, coach Danny Hall definitely will not send No. 1 starter Brant Hurter to the mound. Hall will save Hurter for Louisville, Tech’s opponent Thursday in the second and final pool-play game. The winner of that game will advance to the semifinals, which take place Saturday.

“Once we see who wins, then we’ll know what our path is to try to get to the championship on Sunday and we’ll just look at it and talk about it as a staff and see what we think our best options are to get us there,” Hall said Wednesday before the Clemson-Louisville game, won 15-10 by the Cardinals.

The reason that the game is inconsequential is because of the tournament format. The 12 qualifying teams (the bottom two finishers in the conference don’t make it) are split into four three-team pools. In the event of each team finishing 1-1, the highest seed in the pool — in this case, second-seeded Tech — advances.

As such, Tech only has to beat No. 7-seed Louisville on Thursday to advance, either at 1-1 or 2-0. (No. 11-seed Clemson already was eliminated.) It is not the most elegant structure, but it was the one decided upon by ACC coaches before the 2017 tournament as a way to protect teams from wearing out their bullpens before the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s an odd format, but it’s something that our coaches have felt strong about for a long time, just a guarantee that two of your starters will get a chance to pitch in the tournament, and the winner of the tournament is only going to play four games vs. five or more,” Hall said.

For Tech on Wednesday, the goal will be to get through the game with limited wear on the pitching staff and save arms for Louisville and, if the Jackets win, for the semifinal and final rounds.

Hall might consider Dalton Smith, who has started four games this season and has an ERA of 6.75. Later in the game, pitchers like Hugh Chapman and John Medich, who have been little-used but have been effective, might be candidates. Both were standouts in the Jackets’ 14-inning win over Georgia last week despite not having pitched since April.

As for Louisville, the Cardinals drummed Clemson for 18 hits, including seven home runs, on Tuesday. The home-run total set a record for an ACC Tournament game. Louisville won in Charlotte over Clemson after getting swept in three of its last four ACC series.

Before Clemson and Louisville played, Hall said he had yet to visit Charlotte’s Truist Field but had gotten a scouting report from assistant coach James Ramsey and student assistant (and former Tech center fielder) Kyle Wren, who had both played there as minor leaguers, that the ball travels well there.

Hall was planning to go to the park to watch Louisville and Clemson, and he would have gotten an eyeful had he done so. The two teams combined for 11 home runs, a record for an ACC Tournament game. Louisville hit seven, a tournament record for one team.

“So teams with power would have a chance to put some runs on the board in this ballpark if it’s going to go like (Ramsey and Wren) think it’s going to go,” Hall said.

Louisville averaged one home run for every 28.9 at-bats in the regular season. Tech wasn’t far behind at one for every 31.1 at-bats. (In Tuesday’s second game, Virginia defeated Virginia Tech 3-2 in a game in which both teams hit one home run.)

Louisville has the added motivation of being on the NCAA Tournament bubble. In the D1Baseball projected bracket released Monday, the Cardinals were listed as the first team out. Beating Tech — projected to be a No. 2 seed — to get into the semifinals would obviously help the cause.

“You’re going to get the best shot from just about everybody that’s in those situations where, if they feel like they’re a bubble team, then they’re going to try to win every game they can in this tournament to try to get in the NCAA Tournament,” Hall said.

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