Georgia Tech slugged by Campbell in NCAA regional

Georgia Tech pitcher John Medich pitches against Miami April 29, 2022 at Russ Chandler Stadium. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

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Georgia Tech pitcher John Medich pitches against Miami April 29, 2022 at Russ Chandler Stadium. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Danny Hall was far more prescient than he would have liked. After his team learned Monday that it was being sent to play in an NCAA regional hosted by overall No. 1 seed Tennessee, the Georgia Tech coach told his players that he believed that they could beat any team they played.

“And,” Hall added, “we cannot overlook Campbell.”

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Hall knew of what he spoke. A matchup with the powerhouse Volunteers will have to wait and may never even materialize. The champions of the Big South, the third-seeded Camels dumped the second-seeded Yellow Jackets into the losers bracket with a disheartening 15-8 defeat on a warm Friday afternoon at Tennessee’s Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

“We gave them two big innings, two five-spots, and hard to overcome that at this level,” Hall said Friday after the game. “But Campbell, I thought, played just tremendous baseball up and down. Offense, defense and just did what they needed to do.”

Tech, on the other hand, did not. The Jackets left runners on base, failed to execute pitches and made mistakes on defense.

Campbell jumped on Tech and starter John Medich early, and the bullpen and defense faltered later. Now in the position of needing to win four games in a row, potentially two against the Volunteers, the Jackets’ hopes of winning a regional for the first time since 2006 are decidedly grim. It’s especially so given that Tech needed six pitchers to get through Friday’s loss, taxing the bullpen at the start of a weekend that will have to be busy if it is to be successful.

“Now we’ve just got to regroup and see who we play at noon (Saturday) and see if we can stick around and try to make something happen as we move forward,” Hall said.

Campbell (41-17) hammered Tech pitchers for 18 hits, 10 for extra bases. Tech pitchers issued nine walks, including two with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth. The insufficiency of Tech’s pitching staff, which came into the game 225th in Division I in ERA (6.54) was on full display, this time coupled with the offense’s inability to break through against Campbell ace Thomas Harrington, a top-50 draft prospect.

“It seemed like every time we got a run or got close to him, that he either made a pitch or we followed it up in the next half inning by giving them some runs,” Hall said.

Tech will play Alabama State, a 10-0 loser to top-seeded Tennessee, at noon Saturday. Were Tech were to beat Alabama State on Saturday, the Jackets would then play the loser of a winners bracket game between Tennessee and Campbell at 2 p.m. Sunday. The winner of that game would advance to the regional championship game at 7 p.m. Sunday. Were they to reach that game, the Jackets would then have to win Sunday night and again Monday.

For any team, winning a regional after losing the 2-3 game is a mammoth task. In the past six tournaments, a total of 96 regionals, the loser of the 2-3 game has rallied to win the regional only five times. The difficulty would seem to be magnified with the beleaguered status of Tech’s bullpen.

The game started poorly for Tech (34-23) and never improved much. In the top of the second inning, Medich surrendered three home runs (including back-to-back shots deposited well beyond the right-field wall) and three doubles as Campbell looked every bit a team that ranks in the top 10 in Division I in slugging percentage and home runs per game. Such was Campbell’s consistency in connecting squarely that former Tech player Kyle Wren, serving as analyst on the radio broadcast, suggested that Medich might have been tipping his pitches.

“Medich didn’t have any tells or anything like that,” Campbell coach Justin Haire said. “I just think that (Friday), our guys were locked in and ready to go.”

“The key for me is always getting ahead on hitters, winning the early counts and I just wasn’t doing that, in that second inning in particular,” Medich said. “They were jumping on pitches left up early in the count and putting myself in difficult situations right there.”

Where Tech’s best-case scenario for Friday was for a) the Jackets to win; and b) Medich to go deep into the game to keep the bullpen fresh ahead of a potentially long weekend of tournament play, the Jackets instead found themselves in the worst-case situation – losing and having to go deep in the bullpen with Medich lasting only 1-2/3 innings. It was Medich’s most abbreviated start of the season.

Campbell attacked again in the top of the sixth with the score 6-2 in the Camels’ favor. Against reliever Dawson Brown, Campbell scored two for an 8-2 lead as the Camels’ first four batters reached base before Brown struck out Connor Denning for the first out. Then, Brown induced a ground ball from Drake Pierson for a potential inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

But shortstop Jadyn Jackson and second baseman Chandler Simpson were unable to turn it, providing Campbell with an extra out. The next man up, catcher Ty Babin, took advantage by taking Brown deep for a three-run home run and an 11-2 lead that all but sealed Tech’s fate. The defense lapsed again in the top of the eighth, as a fielding error by third baseman Drew Compton in the top of the eighth opened the door for the Camels to score two more runs and push the lead to 13-5. With the error and the missed double play, two failures to get outs led to five runs for Campbell in a game decided by seven runs.

“I think we didn’t get some pitches where we needed to get them,” Hall said. “And we had a chance to turn a double play, didn’t do it and then that ended up kind of doing Dawson Brown in to where they get five runs in that inning. It’s a combination. It’s not just one thing, that’s for sure.”

Tech, which like Campbell brought a top-10 offense into the game, was subdued by Harrington, the Big South pitcher of the year. Harrington yielded few hard-hit balls, and many were hit right at the Campbell defense. After Harrington departed after seven innings, Tech was able to tag reliever Cameron O’Brien for three runs, two off Tim Borden’s 19th home run of the season.

The Jackets finished with 13 hits but were 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

“(Assistant coach James) Ramsey’s been saying probably for the last month now, ‘You take the positives, leave all the negatives back,’” Borden said. “So pretty much we’re accepting it, we’re moving on. We’ve got (Saturday), so figure we come out (Saturday) and do damage.”