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.”