The injury-riddled Georgia Tech baseball team has only one option if it wants to reach the NCAA tournament: win this week’s ACC Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky.
These Yellow Jackets don’t resemble the team that began the season by winning nine of the first 10 games. The injuries began to accumulate and drag down the team’s record. It reached a point where the Yellow Jackets played a first baseman against Virginia during the weekend who had not played an inning at the position all season.
Nine players on scholarship are hurt and won’t be able to play in the tournament. That’s not comforting for a team that enters the ACC Tournament as the No. 10 seed and that needs to win it all, by head coach Danny Hall’s definition, in order to avoid missing the playoffs for the second time in three years.
The Yellow Jackets (27-26, 11-19 ACC) are in Pool C and open the tournament at 11 a.m. on Tuesday against Miami. Wake Forest is the other team in Georgia Tech’s pool. Each team in the four pools plays the other two teams. The four teams with the best record in each pool advance to the semifinals, where they play a single-game elimination tournament to determine the ACC champion.
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“We’re not rolling in there with a stocked talent pool,” Hall said. “To our guys’ credit, they’ve been battling this thing the whole year, and I think they’ve battled about as hard as they can battle to get us there. We can play with the best teams, and we’ve proven we can lose to just about anybody. Our goal is to play our best baseball and see what happens.”
The Yellow Jackets will pitch Jake Lee (4-2, 5.51 ERA) against Miami. When Georgia Tech beat Virginia last week — guaranteeing the team a spot in the ACC Tournament — Hall and his staff made the decision to skip Lee’s start against the Cavaliers and hold him for the tourney opener. Freshman Xzavion Curry (6-4, 5.52), who has pitched in the No. 1 spot most of the year, will start against Wake Forest in the second game.
“In our situation, we know we have to be 2-0 (in pool play), or we’re not advancing to the NCAA Tournament,” Hall said. “There’s a lot of strategizing about pitching rotations.”
Georgia Tech’s offense has been wounded but has major contributors in second baseman Wade Bailey and center fielder Ryan Peurifoy.
Bailey leads the team in hitting at .347 with 20 doubles, six homers, 62 runs scored and 38 RBI. He has reached base in a career-best 25 straight games and has a 15-game hitting streak. He was named first-team All-ACC.
Peurifoy is batting .300 with seven homers and 33 RBI and continues to excel in the outfield. He has reached base safely in 21 straight games.
Shortstop Austin Wilhite is batting .340 and was named to the ACC’s All-Freshman Team. Third baseman Trevor Craport is hitting .336 with five homers and was named third-team All-ACC. Coleman Poje has emerged to produce 11 homers and drive in 33.
But the Yellow Jackets are without sluggers Kel Johnson (10 homers) and second-team All-ACC catcher Joey Bart (.296, 13 homers), and the pitching staff has suffered many injuries along the way. Bart could return from the hand injury suffered while catching bullpen session three weeks ago.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, quite honestly,” Hall said. “We’ve never been this decimated by injury. We’re thin on the mound and very thin position-player wise.”
Georgia Tech lost two of three games to Miami in the series that opened conference play. Miami (29-26, 16-13) is the No. 6 seed and probably needs to win at least one game to reach the NCAA Tournament.
“Even though they’re closer to being in the field than we are, we probably both have the same motivation to go there and play well,” Hall said.
No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. No. 6 Miami, 11 a.m. (FS South)
No. 11 Boston College vs. No. 7 N.C. State, 3 p.m. (FS South)
No. 9 Duke vs. No. 5 Clemson, 7 p.m. (FS South)
No. 12 Notre Dame vs. No. 8 Florida State, 11 a.m. (FS South)
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Boston College, 3 p.m. (FS South)
No. 3 Wake Forest vs. No. 10 Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. (FS South)
No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 9 Duke, 11 a.m. (FS South)
No. 6 Miami vs. No. 3 Wake Forest, 3 p.m. (FS South)
No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 12 Notre Dame, 7 p.m. (FS South)
No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 4 Virginia, 11 a.m. (FS South)
No. 8 Florida State vs. No. 1 Louisville, 3 p.m. (FS South)
No. 7 N.C. State vs. No. 2 North Carolina, 7 p.m. (FS South)
Pool winners, 1 p.m. (FS South)
Pool winners, 5 p.m. (FS South)
Championship, Noon (ESPN2)