Hard-luck Georgia Tech loses in ACC semifinal to N.C. State

N.C. State's Luca Tresh reaches home past Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada after his fourth-inning home run in the Wolfpack's 8-1 win in an ACC Tournament semifinal May 29, 2021 at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C. (Laura Wolff/ACC)
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N.C. State's Luca Tresh reaches home past Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada after his fourth-inning home run in the Wolfpack's 8-1 win in an ACC Tournament semifinal May 29, 2021 at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C. (Laura Wolff/ACC)

Georgia Tech didn’t lack for solid contact against N.C. State in its ACC Tournament semifinal Saturday afternoon. The Yellow Jackets did lack for a little bit of luck, paving the way to an 8-1 loss to the Wolfpack at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be lucky and the ball’s got to bounce your way,” coach Danny Hall said. “(Saturday), it just didn’t bounce our way.”

After their come-from-behind 9-8 win in 12 innings over Louisville on Thursday to advance to the semifinals, the Jackets were unable to rally Saturday after falling behind 3-0 in the top of the second.

The second-seeded Jackets hit a number of starter Sam Highfill’s pitches sharply, but had little to show for it. Most agonizing for the Jackets, with the score 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth, a two-out, two-run home run by Kevin Parada down the left-field line was overturned on video replay, ruled a foul. Parada walked and then Justyn-Henry Malloy grounded out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the seventh, with the score still 4-1, Stephen Reid flew out deep to left with a runner on. Wolfpack left fielder Jonny Butler leapt to catch Reid’s fly at the wall, Tech missing another two-run home run by a few feet.

Shortly after the game, Hall said that he hadn’t seen a replay of Parada’s blast, but “everyone that saw it on TV is telling me it was a home run. But the umpire saw something different, so they overturned it.”

The ACC provided a statement to the AJC from Troy Fullwood, the league’s supervisor of officials.

“Upon review, there was conclusive evidence that the ball went out of the playing field in foul territory. These are the precise situations that replay was implemented to address.”

N.C. State tacked on its final four runs in the last two innings after Luke Bartnicki had left the game after his second impressive relief appearance in Charlotte. Bartnicki went four innings, and the only run he was charged with was scored after he left the game for Chance Huff in the eighth.

Tech’s hope of a rally and a fourth walk-off win in the past 12 days evaporated in the top of the ninth when the Wolfpack added three more runs off Huff and Joseph Mannelly. Helping with six walks, Tech got a full taste of a Wolfpack offense that came into the game leading the ACC in batting average and slugging percentage.

Said Hall, “It seemed like we would walk a guy, and they would do some damage to us, and that was kind of the common theme all night, is that we would put some guys by not making them hit their way on and then they did some damage when we made not good enough pitches to get ‘em out.”

Tech began the night last in the ACC in walks allowed per game at 5.2.

“We’ve got to eliminate walks, and that’s easier said than done,” Hall said. “But give (the Wolfpack) credit. They took advantage of everything we gave them.”

Its pursuit of its 10th ACC title extinguished, Tech (29-23) now will wait to learn its NCAA Tournament assignment Monday. A No. 2 seed figures to be its fate. As for N.C. State (30-16), the third-seeded Wolfpack will play ninth-seeded Duke for the league championship Sunday. It’s the Blue Devils’ first time in the ACC title game since the league adopted a tournament to determine its champion in 1973. Duke has won 11 games in a row.

In the first 14 seasons that the ACC has been split into divisions, the Coastal Division champion (which Tech is, for the second season in a row, not counting 2020) has earned a No. 1 seed in a regional, although the Jackets’ conference winning percentage (.583) is lower than any of the previous 14 Coastal champions.

“I have no idea,” Hall said when asked about Tech being a likely No. 2 seed. “Honestly, that’s all I’ll say. There’s plenty I’d want to say, but I’m not going to say it.”

For Tech, even if it were to be awarded a No. 1 seed, there is no chance of being at home for the upcoming regional. Due to COVID-19 precautions, the NCAA designated 20 potential host sites for the first weekend of the tournament, and Tech was not one of them.

“Anywhere you go, you’re going to be playing good teams, and if you really want to win the national championship, you’re going to have to beat good teams, too,” shortstop and captain Luke Waddell said.

Tech fell behind in the second when freshman starter Marquis Grissom Jr. loaded the bases with one out, walking two Wolfpack batters. He was close to escaping, getting up 0-2 on J.T. Jarrett, the No. 9 hitter. But he hung a breaking ball that Jarrett smashed over third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy’s head to score three.

“It looked like we were going to get out of that jam, and he hung a breaking ball to him and, like a good hitter, Jarrett, he didn’t miss it,” Hall said. “He’ll learn. He’s got great aptitude, he’s got a great attitude, he’s a hard worker and he’s just going to do nothing but get better.”

Tech had chances against Highfill, putting runners on in the third through seventh innings. But the Jackets scored only once, with three innings doused by double plays.

“We hung in there, we grinded their pitches really well,” Waddell said. “We had a lot of good (at-bats), hit the ball hard a lot, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. That’s kind of what happened (Saturday).”