Georgia Tech loses ACC Tournament opener, has one game left in season

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Credit: Jamie Spaar

With a pool-play loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament on Tuesday, Georgia Tech’s season effectively has ended.

Falling behind in the first inning, the Yellow Jackets trailed the entire way in an 11-5 loss to the Tar Heels at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, North Carolina.

The Jackets, whose hopes for a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth depended on their winning the conference championship, have no path to get there with the pool-play loss on the first day of the tournament. With one more pool-play game against Virginia (44-11) on Wednesday, the best the Jackets can do now in Pool B is 1-1 – which also is the worst that the Tar Heels can do – and the tiebreaker is tournament seeding. Tech (30-26) made it into the 12-team field as the No. 11 seed, and North Carolina (34-21) is No. 7. (Virginia is No. 2.)

“We have no excuses and now we have one game left,” coach Danny Hall said. “We hope we play good (Wednesday).”

Tech’s NCAA hopes lifted after winning nine of 12 games late in the season, including a series win over top-25 Duke, but getting swept by top-25 Virginia at home in the final weekend of the regular season left the Jackets without much of a case to make to the tournament-selection committee. Hall conceded after the team’s final loss of the regular season, Saturday to Virginia, that his team would have to win the ACC to keep the season alive.

Hall made an unconventional move in sending reliever Ben King (6-2) to the mound to start Tuesday’s game for the Jackets. While Tech’s most consistent arm this season with a team-low 3.21 ERA, he had started only two games in the regular season out of 24 appearances. Given that Tech has not had much success with its starting pitching of late, it may have been a decision to count on King to get off to a fast start and try to gain an early lead.

It did not work. In the bottom of the first, King allowed three runs, all with two outs, and gave up another run in the third as Tech fell behind 4-0. The Jackets rallied to 4-2 in the top of the sixth on a solo home run from John Giesler (his eighth of the season), but then saw the deficit expand to 7-2 in the bottom of the sixth, with the three runs again all scored with two outs.

Carolina’s Patrick Alvarez and Tomas Frick produced three hits each, and Alvarez drove in three runs. Jack Rubenstein, Angelo DiSpigna and Jadyn Jackson each had two hits for the Jackets. North Carolina was 10-for-24 with runners on base. Tech was 6-for-20.

“You just tip your cap to North Carolina,” Hall said. “They played really well.”

While Tech lost most of the hitters responsible for last season’s record-setting offense to the draft, it has nevertheless been a disappointing season for the Jackets, who have made 23 NCAA Tournament appearances in Hall’s 30 seasons. Hall’s team was again one of the strongest at the plate in the ACC but pitching also again faltered.

In finishing with either 30 or 31 wins, the team will either tie for the second-fewest losses in Hall’s tenure (not counting the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic) or stand alone as second fewest.

“We want to pitch well,” Hall said. “This year, I think injuries were a factor but not the entire factor. That and our defense. We were solid defensively. I’d like to see us play better defense, particularly in the infield. The name of the game, if you can pitch and play defense, you can win a lot of baseball games and we’ve just got to continue to try to solve that issue. It’s frustrating, to be quite honest. It’s frustrating.”