Georgia Tech earns No. 2 seed in Vanderbilt regional

Georgia Tech players offer their encouragement during the Yellow Jackets' 7-6 win over Georgia at Russ Chandler Stadium May 18, 2021. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)
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Georgia Tech players offer their encouragement during the Yellow Jackets' 7-6 win over Georgia at Russ Chandler Stadium May 18, 2021. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech’s road to the College World Series won’t be an easy one. The Yellow Jackets were assigned to a four-team regional headed by Vanderbilt, which earned the No. 4 national seed.

The Yellow Jackets are a No. 2 seed in the region and will open tournament play Friday in Nashville, Tenn., against No. 3 seed Indiana State, which earned an at-large bid with a 30-19 record. Presbyterian, first-time champion of the Big South Conference, is the No. 4 seed. It’s a double-elimination format, with the winner advancing to the super-regional round to play the winner of the regional with East Carolina as the top seed. Tech will make its 33rd overall NCAA appearance and 22nd with coach Danny Hall.

“Definitely a great challenge going there to win a regional at Vandy, but something that we look forward to every year of trying to get our team to the NCAA Tournament, and we’ve gotten that opportunity,” Hall said.

At 40-15 and a consensus top-five team, Vanderbilt is a juggernaut. The Commodores, who won the national championship in 2019 and are making their 15th consecutive NCAA appearance, boast two of the top starting pitchers in the country in Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker. Both have been projected to be selected in the first 10 picks of the upcoming major-league draft.

The son of former major-league pitcher Al Leiter, Leiter has an ERA of 2.28 in 14 starts and an opponent batting average of .128. Rocker, the son of former Auburn football great Tracy Rocker, has an ERA of 2.86 with an opponent batting average of .165. Vanderbilt’s pitching staff has a 3.49 ERA, which is 12th nationally. For good measure, the Commodores are also seventh nationally in slugging percentage (.509).

Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter (the son of former Major Leaguer Al Leiter) throws against Mississippi State Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
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Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter (the son of former Major Leaguer Al Leiter) throws against Mississippi State Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

By comparison, Tech’s ERA is 5.76 (184th nationally), although the Jackets are also 38th in slugging percentage (.463).

“They’re electric,” Jackets third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy, who was a freshman at Vanderbilt in the 2020 season before transferring to Tech, said of Leiter and Rocker. “I know, you (media) all know – those guys are very polished pitchers. They know how to get outs, they know how get outs at a high level.”

It’s likely that, for the Jackets (29-23) to make it out of the regional round for the first time since 2006, they’ll have to beat Vanderbilt twice. Hall did not bemoan the lot of the Coastal Division champion Jackets being assigned to a regional hosted by the team identified as the fourth best in the country.

“I think this time of year, there are a lot of good baseball teams, and I think if you’re one of those 16 seeds, you’re really good,” Hall said. “If you’re one of the top eight, you’re really good. So we knew we were going to be placed somewhere where you have to beat a really, really good baseball team. We just happened to be sent to Vanderbilt.”

It would not appear to be an entirely random selection. For better or worse, Tech and an SEC opponent have been constant companions in regional play. Since the NCAA adopted the current 64-team, 16-regional format in 1999, the Jackets have earned a home regional as a No. 1 seed 10 times and gone on the road as a No. 2 or 3 seed six times.

Nine of the 10 home regionals brought an SEC opponent to Tech. All of the Jackets’ other six regionals were at SEC schools, including at Vanderbilt in 2013. The Commodores have a 27-6 home record this season.

“That’s the neighborhood we live in,” Hall said. “If geography is one of the criteria when they start placing teams, then it’s always going to be that way.”

While geography would appear to be a factor in seeding, N.C. State, also a second seed, was sent to Louisiana Tech, the lowest of the 16 national seeds. VCU, another No. 2 seed, will be at Mississippi State, the No. 7 national seed. Fans of both teams coming from Richmond, Va., and Raleigh, N.C., may well drive through Nashville, Tenn., on their way to see their teams.

Tech fans might have preferred that the NCAA not have been so accommodating in sending their team to an opponent about four hours away.

“That’s the neighborhood we live in,” Hall said. “If geography is one of the criteria when they start placing teams, then it’s always going to be that way.”

That said, Vanderbilt is not unbeatable. The Commodores were 7-3 in SEC series, losing to Georgia, Florida and Mississippi. As Tech fans may well remember, the Jackets took their two-game season series from the same Bulldogs that took two of three from Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Also, as Hall pointed out, the Jackets will have to beat Indiana State first. Most notably, the Sycamores split an early-season four-game series with Tennessee, which earned the No. 3 national seed. They have an ace in Geremy Guererro (1.93 ERA in 13 starts), named the Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the year.

Only one ACC team, Notre Dame, earned a No. 1 seed for its regional. It’s the first time since the current 64-team, 16-regional format was adopted in 1999 that only one team from the conference has been awarded one of the top 16 seeds.