Georgia Tech advances in 12-inning thriller

Georgia Tech players and coaches celebrate their 9-8 win over Louisville in 12 innings in the ACC Tournament at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C., May 27, 2021. (Courtesy of ACC)
Georgia Tech players and coaches celebrate their 9-8 win over Louisville in 12 innings in the ACC Tournament at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C., May 27, 2021. (Courtesy of ACC)

Credit: Atlantic Coast Conference

Credit: Atlantic Coast Conference

After its Wednesday game was played absent of drama and meaning, Georgia Tech followed it Thursday with a contest gorged with both.

Down to their final out in their second pool-play game at the ACC Tournament at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C. — a winner-take-all matchup for a spot in the tournament semifinals – the Yellow Jackets defeated Louisville 9-8 in 12 innings when Andrew Jenkins’ double into the left-center gap was misplayed by center fielder Luke Brown, bringing in Tres Gonzalez from second and Justyn-Henry Malloy all the way from first.

Malloy slid home with the winning run, giving the Jackets their only lead of the game, one in which they had trailed 4-0 after 2½ innings, 6-3 after 4½, 7-6 after the top of the 11th and finally 8-7 after the top of the 12th.

“Louisville gave a great effort, but my guys just never gave up,” coach Danny Hall said. “I think there would have been a lot of cases where they could have given up (Thursday); they didn’t. They just kept taking the innings as they came and in the end, we kept finding ways to either tie and then finally found a way to win it.”

In Tech’s final at-bat, Gonzalez singled with one out and moved to second on a groundout by Kevin Parada. With two outs, Malloy drew a walk, putting the winning run on base. Jenkins then laced Luke Smith’s first pitch into the gap. Brown appeared to overrun the ball, which glanced off his glove, giving Malloy the extra moments needed to score from first. Jenkins was the third batter Smith had faced that inning. He said he noticed that Smith was throwing a lot of off-speed pitches.

“So I was sitting off-speed, and I just wanted to see one up and out over the plate, and then just stay within myself and stay up the middle,” Jenkins said.

After Malloy touched home, Jenkins’ teammates chased him out into left field to celebrate.

“It’s hard to describe,” he said of that experience. “It was awesome to be able to win just a crazy game and then have the whole team out there chasing after me. It was awesome. I’m really, really proud of all our guys.”

The win advanced Tech (29-22) into the tournament semifinals, where the Jackets will play N.C. State, which won a similar winner-take-all pool-play game over Pitt by a 3-2 score Thursday night.

The semifinal will be played at 5 p.m. Saturday. Tech will throw Marquis Grissom, who has been solid in his past two starts for the Jackets (10 1/3 innings, three earned runs).

Tech’s game with Louisville (28-22) followed its Wednesday night game against Clemson, an 11-5 loss for the Jackets that held no meaning because of the tournament’s unusual format. With Clemson out of the picture with its opening-day loss to Louisville, Thursday afternoon/night’s game decided the pool winner.

The list of clutch performers only ended with Jenkins, but certainly included Parada, whose three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth tied the score at 6-6. In the bottom of the 11th, with Tech down 7-6 after a home run by Louisville’s Alex Binelas, Drew Compton doubled high off the center-field wall to score pinch-runner Brad Grenkoski and tie the score at 7-7, just missing a walk-off home run. Jenkins got Tech’s scoring going early with a two-run homer in the third that cut the lead to 4-2.

Relievers Zach Maxwell and Luke Bartnicki combined to keep Louisville scoreless from the sixth through the 10th innings – the only innings that the Cardinals did not score in – to keep Tech in the game. Cumulatively, they helped Tech overcame an unusually ineffective start by ace Brant Hurter that put Tech in a 4-0 hole going into the bottom of the third.

“I thought Maxwell came in and did a really good job of just settling their offense a little bit, and then we just kind of started chipping away,” Hall said.

While behind, the Jackets continued to threaten. But they loaded the bases in the second and sixth and had two on with none out in the fifth and each time came up empty.

“Sometimes, I think guys try too hard,” Hall said. “They get in those situations, they try to do too much. Some of it is that. Some of it is, the other teams trying to keep you from scoring and they make good pitches and get you out. We can definitely be better at it.”

Tech continues its pursuit of its 10th ACC championship. The win and semifinal berth keep alive the Jackets’ flickering hopes of earning a No. 1 seed in an NCAA regional.

The win called to mind Tech’s 7-6 win in 14 innings over Georgia on May 18 at Russ Chandler Stadium, when the Jackets trailed almost the entire game and were down 6-3 going into the bottom of the eighth, finally winning it in walk-off fashion when Malloy drove in Luke Waddell on a shallow sacrifice fly, the first time the Jackets led the entire game. It was, in fact, Tech’s third walk-off win in the past 10 days, as the Jackets also beat North Carolina on a walk-off home run by Compton last weekend.

“Very proud of the team,” Hall said. “We left everything we had on the field and on the table.”