Georgia Tech outlasts Georgia in 14-inning marathon

Teammates celebrate Georgia Tech third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy's game-winning sacrifice fly in the Yellow Jackets' 7-6 win in 14 innings over Georgia at Russ Chandler Stadium May 18, 2021. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

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Teammates celebrate Georgia Tech third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy's game-winning sacrifice fly in the Yellow Jackets' 7-6 win in 14 innings over Georgia at Russ Chandler Stadium May 18, 2021. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Just over five and a half hours after the game began, Georgia Tech’s Justyn-Henry Malloy lifted a fastball from Georgia’s Hank Bearden into shallow left field. It was the bottom of the 14th inning at Russ Chandler Stadium, by elapsed time the longest game the Yellow Jackets had ever played.

At third base, Luke Waddell waited to tag up and then bolted for home when Georgia’s Luke Wagner squeezed Malloy’s fly ball and threw home. As Waddell raced down the third-base line against Wagner’s throw to the plate, the game hung in the balance – either Waddell would score and Tech would win, or it would be an inning-ending and soul-crushing double play, and the game would continue into a 15th inning.

The throw was high and up the first-base line, requiring catcher Shane Marshall to leap high into the air and away from the plate. It was the margin that Waddell needed to slide home safely, swiping home plate with his left hand.

With that, Tech had a most treasured 7-6 win over the Bulldogs, securing for the Jackets a two-game season sweep over their in-state rival. The Jackets won despite never leading until Waddell scored the game-winner. They had chased the Bulldogs for most of the lengthy night, falling behind 2-0 after 1 1/2 innings, 3-1 after 5 1/2 and 6-3 after 7½.

“Knowing Luke and him being fast, I knew that if I hit the ball in the air, he was going to apply some pressure to them,” Malloy said. “So when I hit it, I knew it had a shot. I think it was more so whether if (third-base coach James Ramsey) was going to hold him up or not. But once I saw him take off, I knew he was going to be able to be safe, touch home plate and us finally get out of here. It was fun.”

It was Malloy’s second time delivering a win in Tech’s final at bat this month, following a walk-off home run to beat Clemson 6-5 on May 8.

Tech (26-20) earned its second series win in three years against the Bulldogs, whose NCAA Tournament profile took a hit Tuesday night. Georgia (29-21) may be in position of needing to sweep Mississippi at home this weekend in order to maintain its shot for a third consecutive NCAA berth.

In the five extra innings, Georgia put a runner on base in three of them, including third base once, but was unable to score. In the 13th, Garrett Blaylock was unable to score from second on a double by Marshall to the left-field wall, cut down by a relay from Jake DeLeo to Waddell to catcher Kevin Parada.

In Tech’s four run-scoring innings, the Bulldogs contributed a dropped-third strike on a passed ball, seven walks (one intentional), three errors and a wild pitch. Beyond that, coach Scott Stricklin was without his leading hitter (Connor Tate) and third-leading RBI producer (Riley King), both of whom were game-time scratches due to injury.

“This was a tough one to lose,” Stricklin said in comments released by a team spokesman. “We had some opportunities. We were able to take a late lead and then let it get away. We had too many walks and made some mistakes out there too, and that can get you in position to lose. It was just too many free passes, and the mistakes we made on some plays, it’s tough to win when you put it all together.”

The Jackets, meanwhile, seemed to gain energy as the night drew on. To summon fortune’s aid in the last couple innings, they wore their caps backwards and donned sunglasses.

“It was just fun. It was a good vibe,” Malloy said. “It was guys just taking the fumes that they had and just kind of letting it all out.”

The game ended just shy of 11:40 p.m., five hours and 37 minutes after it began. The 381st game between the Jackets and Bulldogs, played under overcast skies and with a light breeze blowing in from right field, tied for the longest game by innings between the two rivals. A 1910 game was called a 0-0 tie after 14. Tech’s all-time longest game was a 6-5 win in 16 innings over Georgia Southern in 2016. UGA’s longest game, both in time and innings played, remains its 20-inning win over Clemson in 2019, a six-hour, 33-minute epic.

In no small part because Stricklin and counterpart Danny Hall were committed to going deep into the bullpen to not overtax any arms prior to critical weekend series that begin Thursday, the overall pace was creeping. The ninth inning ended just before 10 p.m., a few minutes under four hours. The first time the teams met, a 7-5 win for Tech in Athens on April 21, the game was completed in a relatively brisk 3:32.

Stricklin needed seven pitchers to make it through the game while Hall called on 10. The winner, John Medich, hadn’t appeared in a game since April 23. Two other vital relievers in the bullpen relay were Brody Westbrooks, who was making only his fourth appearance of the season, and Hugh Chapman, who also hadn’t pitched since April 24.

“I told the team before the game that a lot of guys pitching-wise were going to have to touch the baseball,” Hall said. “But not in my wildest dreams did I think we’d have that many guys have to touch the ball for us to win. But I think maybe the man upstairs had other ideas. He wanted a lot of those guys to touch it.”

Medich must rate among the more unlikely ballplayers to assume a major role in any of the games in the series that dates back to 1898. Medich transferred to Tech after a four-year career at Rhodes College, a Division III school in Memphis, Tenn., taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to COVID-19.

Medich, who began at Rhodes as a catcher before turning to pitching, wanted to continue to develop as a pitcher and further his studies after earning his bachelor’s in mathematics and economics.

With an opportunity to work with pitching coach Danny Borrell while pursuing a master’s in quantitative and computational finance, Tech was a “perfect blend,” Medich said.

As for not appearing in a game in almost a month, Medich said he tried not to overcomplicate his role – support his teammates and be prepared.

Tuesday, entering the game in the top of the 13th inning carrying a 11.00 ERA in nine innings of work, Medich inherited runners on first and third with two out. He was able to get a glove on Chaney Rogers’ smash, collecting it and throwing him out at first to end the threat.

After the bottom of the 13th produced nothing, Medich returned to the mound in the top of the 14th and retired the Bulldogs in order, just the second time in the whole game that Georgia was retired 1-2-3. (The other was in the 12th, by Westbrooks.)

By that point, the crowd, initially measured at the reduced-capacity max of 1,163. As the game trudged along, dozens of fans headed for the gates after each half inning as long drives home, work and school awaited.

Perhaps 200 fans, including Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury, remained at game’s end. One of them was Tech grad and season-ticket holder Michael Hickman. A few weeks ago, he had taken a photo with Medich, as his No. 55 jersey also represented the age he turned Tuesday. Had Hickman considered an early exit?

“Hell, no,” he replied.

His team made it worth the investment of time.

“It’s just a special night,” Medich said. “Coach Hall or coach Ramsey told us before the game, that this is going to be one you’re going to want to remember. This is the rivalry game right here; this is big. I don’t think he knew how correct he was before the game. I don’t think anybody in hat clubhouse is forgetting this game anytime soon.”

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