Georgia Tech leaning on momentum ahead of Athens Regional

‘Mojacks’ ready to keep their surge going
Georgia Tech players stand outside of their dugout for the U.S. national anthem before their game against Auburn at Russ Chandler Stadium, Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Georgia Tech players stand outside of their dugout for the U.S. national anthem before their game against Auburn at Russ Chandler Stadium, Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Heading into the first week of April, Danny Hall admits the Yellow Jackets were a bit lost.

The veteran skipper of Georgia Tech baseball had a team that was 16-10, but a team that had fallen to 3-6 in the ACC after being swept by Boston College at home. In the days that followed Hall recalls speaking to his fragile squad about the concept of momentum, how one pitch, one defensive play, one at-bat can swing fortune in a team’s favor.

The Jackets, particularly the club’s pitchers and pitching coaches, took the speech to heart. And not long after that the “Momentum Jackets,” or “Mojacks,” were born.

“We’ve had our backs up against the wall quite a bit this year, and when we create momentum, we play well off that,” pitcher Aeden Finateri said.

Added center fielder Drew Burress: “It summarizes our team pretty well. When we get it going, we get it going. As soon as we get on the board, we score and we score fast.”

Hall said anyone who is on the field or in the dugout or around Tech’s clubhouse on a daily basis will hear “Mojacks” more often than not. And the program even had shirts made with the word “Mojacks” printed across the front.

Momentum, and the emergence of the “Mojacks,” will be pivotal this weekend for Tech at the Athens Regional. The Jackets (31-23) began their quest for the College World Series at 7 p.m. Friday against North Carolina-Wilmington at Foley Field.

“We gotta play well. We have to pitch well. We gotta play good defense, and we gotta get timely hits. And that’s what it comes down to in playoff action,” Hall said. “The intensity gets ramped up, so you hope your guys play with poise and confidence and focus. You get behind, don’t look at the scoreboard, just keep playing. Play like ‘Mojacks’ and try to get momentum back on your side.

“Sometimes it just takes a lucky break or a bounce or something goes your way and you get that momentum and keep rolling with it.”

Hall’s team created enough momentum after that aforementioned Boston College series to put itself in position to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection. The Jackets went 11-5 in April and won ACC series against Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Miami.

Tech were only 4-8 in May, but two of those wins were over Duke, another was over Clemson and another was over Florida State — all NCAA Tournament teams. That helped create a resume strong enough to allow the Jackets to make the field of 64.

“We dropped quite a few games that maybe we shouldn’t have dropped. We could have very easily been in the same situation the Bulldogs are in and be hosting here,” Burress said. “But we lost a couple close ones, and now we get the opportunity of going on the road — and to be honest with you there’s nothing more fun than going on the road and being able to beat some teams.”

Tech won’t have an easy path out of Athens. Georgia, the host team, is the No. 7 overall national seed and is 39-15. The Bulldogs went 17-13 in the mighty SEC and are 29-5 this season in their home ballpark.

Georgia faces Army at 1 p.m. Friday. The Black Knights (31-21) also have a recent history of NCAA Tournament appearances and made this year’s field thanks to a Patriot League tournament title run.

As for UNC-Wilmington, the Seahawks (39-19) won the Coastal Athletic Association tournament, but likely would have made a regional anyway. Sophomore Tanner Thach has belted 27 homers and driven in 74 runs and junior right-hander RJ Sales comes into the weekend 10-3 with a 3.70 ERA and .212 batting average against.

“They’ve had a great program. A good history of winning baseball. They’re a conference champion,” Hall said. “This time of year you’re playing a lot of conference champions, or you’re playing teams that are in tough conferences that got at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. Everybody’s good, everybody’s got good players and that’s what makes it exciting and a challenge.”

Pending Friday’s results, Tech will play either at noon or 6 p.m. Saturday against either Army or Georgia. The Jackets lost both games to the Bulldogs in March, and a third game was suspended because of inclement weather before it eventually was canceled.

Sunday’s games are scheduled for noon and 6 p.m., and if a regional champion has not be decided by then a winner-take-all contest will be played Monday at a time to be determined.

Georgia has not won a regional title since 2008. Tech has not advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2006.

“I think we have to play with a chip on our shoulder,” Hall said. “Do I think we’re good? I do. Do I think we’re gonna be the most talented team every time we step on the field? Absolutely not. We have to play with an edge. And I think that’s why we’re getting in (to the tournament). Our guys played with an edge in April and May.”