Georgia Tech rallies to beat Indiana State in NCAA opener

Georgia Tech's Andrew Jenkins runs home with what proved to be the game-winning run in the Yellow Jackets' 7-6 win over Indiana State in the teams' opening game of the NCAA regional at Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn., June 4, 2021. (Joe Howell/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Joe Howell

Credit: Joe Howell

Georgia Tech's Andrew Jenkins runs home with what proved to be the game-winning run in the Yellow Jackets' 7-6 win over Indiana State in the teams' opening game of the NCAA regional at Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn., June 4, 2021. (Joe Howell/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Burgeoning experts in the field of late-inning rallies, Georgia Tech summoned their skill once again Friday afternoon, this time at the most crucial hour of the season.

In the opening game of their NCAA regional in Nashville, Tenn., the Yellow Jackets chased down Indiana State with a five-run seventh inning to eke out a 7-6 win. They advance to play a winner’s bracket game Saturday night against the winner of Friday night’s Vanderbilt-Presbyterian game.

“I wouldn’t say we’re comfortable (being down late) – I never want to get in these all the time,” coach Danny Hall said. “But we don’t panic, and we just keep playing.”

Behind from the top of the first inning forward, the second-seeded Jackets (30-23) trailed the third-seeded Sycamores (30-20) by a 6-2 score heading into the bottom of the seventh before breaking loose for five runs to take the lead, four of them scored with two outs. Stephen Reid’s two-out, bases-loaded single drove in two to tie the score at 6, and Drew Compton followed with another single to bring home Andrew Jenkins with what proved to be the game-winning run.

The win followed two other come-from-behind wins in recent weeks. Tech beat Georgia 7-6 in 14 innings on May 18 at Russ Chandler Stadium after going into the bottom of the eighth trailing 6-3. At the ACC Tournament last week in Charlotte, N.C., Tech was in the same boat against Louisville – down 6-3 going into the bottom of the eighth – before tying it go to extra innings. There, the Jackets fell behind by a run in both the 11th and 12th, extending the game the first time and then winning it in the 12th on a walk-off double by Jenkins (with a fielding error contributing).

The Jackets also won two other ACC games in May, against Clemson and North Carolina, with ninth-inning walk-off home runs.

“Not a lot different than games we’ve kind of had to play down the stretch here just to get to this point,” Hall said. “So, happy for our team and proud of the way we just hung in there and battled.”

Even with the win, juggernaut Vanderbilt, the fourth overall seed in the 64-team tournament, still looms. But with the win, the Jackets’ hopes of winning the regional and advancing to the super-regional round for the first time since 2006 remain far more realistic than they would be had Indiana State prevailed.

In the past five tournaments – a total of 80 regionals – the winner of the Saturday night winner’s bracket game has gone on to win the regional 64 times (80%). That game’s loser has won nine of the remaining 16. Only three times has the loser of the 2-3 game on Friday come back to win the regional.

“It would have been a, not impossible, but a long road back if you get in that loser’s bracket right out of the gate,” Hall said.

After the game, Hall was not decided on a starting pitcher for Saturday, saying he wanted to watch the Vanderbilt-Presbyterian game before deciding on either Andy Archer or Marquis Grissom Jr. Hall did say that, with no relief pitcher throwing more than 24 pitches Friday, everyone on the staff besides Friday starter Brant Hurter will be available.

The Jackets fell behind 3-0 after 1 ½ innings as the Sycamores got the early jump on Hurter. Hall said he stressed to pitching coach Danny Borrell around the third inning that Hurter needed to continue to labor in order to save the bullpen.

Not near his best for the second start in a row – he hit four Indiana State batters – Hurter still managed to make it through the sixth with four runs allowed, throwing 110 pitches, a career high by one pitch.

“I (told Borrell), ‘He’s going to have to settle in and get as many outs as he possibly can, and I thought he did that,” Hall said.

However, down 4-2, the Jackets imperiled their hopes of a rally in the top of the seventh as the Sycamores took advantage of relievers Sam Crawford and Zach Maxwell for two runs on two hits, three walks and a wild pitch. Hall brought in Josiah Siegel with the bases loaded, one out and any reasonable chance of a comeback hanging in the balance. On his second pitch, he induced a deft inning-ending 6-4-3 double play turned by shortstop Luke Waddell, second baseman Austin Wilhite and Jenkins at first.

Hall called Siegel’s double-play ball “probably the biggest pitch of the game.”

In the bottom of the seventh, Jake DeLeo started the rally with a double off Indiana State ace Geremy Guerrero, the Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the year. Saying later that Guerrero was not at his best and tiring in the heat, Sycamores coach Mitch Hannahs removed him in favor of Tyler Grauer, who got two outs but also gave up two singles and a walk to allow in two runs and bring the score to 6-4.

“It was kind of good to see (Guerrero) go out of the game,” Hall said.

Justyn-Henry Malloy, a transfer from Vanderbilt who was making his return to Hawkins Field, was responsible for one of the singles, a two-out opposite-field line drive that scored a run.

“It was a little weird being a visitor,” Malloy said.

Hannahs replaced Grauer with Connor Fenlong, who walked Jenkins and then gave up singles to Stephen Reid and Compton for the game-tying and go-ahead runs.

From there, Hall turned to Luke Bartnicki, who recorded the final six outs for the save. With a runner on second and one out in the top of the ninth, right fielder Brad Grenkoski, in as a defensive replacement, tracked down a line drive into the right-center gap and then doubled up pinch runner Nick Barrett, who had believed the ball would drop for a hit, to end the game.

And with that, the Jackets, who have known their share of heartbreak at the regional round in recent years, were off the hook after an uneven performance. Now they are off to a Saturday-night appointment in the winner’s bracket.

“Just being able to play playoff game after playoff game, even though they’re not (actually playoff games), it builds us for games like these, and we all know the type of team that we are late in games where we’re not ever out of the ballgames,” Malloy said. “I think that’s just the character of the team that we have.”