ATLANTA — If it wanted its season to continue, Georgia Tech’s sole mission Sunday afternoon at Russ Chandler Stadium was simple.
Forced to play back-to-back elimination games on the third day of the Atlanta NCAA Regional, the No. 13 Yellow Jackets knew losing either end of a demanding doubleheader was not an option.
In Sunday’s first game, the Yellow Jackets relied on a seven-run second in order to cruise to the 8-4 win over Elon that placed them in the nighttime contest against the tournament’s only remaining unbeaten team, Southern Mississippi.
Finding their offensive stroke early in the late contest, the Yellow Jackets pounded the Golden Eagles 10-3 en route to a much-needed win. That win forced the pair into a Regional championship final tonight. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m.
“My guys competed from the first pitch (of Sunday’s first game) to the last pitch (of the second game),” Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall said. “I told them that after the game. That’s the kind of effort it’s going to take for us to continue playing, and we’re going to need that effort (today).”
Tonight’s game will mark the third time Georgia Tech and Southern Mississippi have faced each other in the double-elimination tournament. Before Sunday’s meeting, the Golden Eagles outslugged the Yellow Jackets 10-7.
Southern Mississippi will start right-handed pitcher Scott Copeland, who brings a 1-5 record and a 6.23 ERA into the game. Georgia Tech will counter with ACC Pitcher of the Year and All-America selection Deck McGuire, who won Friday’s opening-round game for Georgia Tech.
“I know his numbers don’t look that well, but he’s the best pitcher for us,” Southern Mississippi head coach Corky Palmer said. “We’re going to have to get some help from some people that haven’t pitched very well for us to win this thing very well, but we’re capable.
“There’s definitely no tomorrow.”
The teams’ most recent battle tilted quickly in Georgia Tech’s favor as the Yellow Jackets broke through for three runs in the first inning.
With two outs and no one on, right fielder Luke Murton clobbered a hanging pitch, and deposited it well onto the adjacent Rose Bowl practice football fields that lie beyond the left field fence. It was his 20th of the season, and marked the first time a Georgia Tech player had reached the total since 1997, when Mark Fisher and J.J. Thomas finished the year with 20 homers.
Two batters later, little-used designated hitter Jay Dantzler muscled a two-run drive of his own over the right field fence.
The Yellow Jackets continued their two-out scoring in the second inning, as backup catcher Cole Leonida bombed his first hit of the Regionals to straightaway center field, just out of the reach of a wall-scaling Golden Eagles centerfielder Bo Davis.
“Georgia Tech played a complete game. They pitched well, they fielded outstanding; they hit home runs,” Palmer said. “They deserved to win. They beat us in every aspect.”
While the offense was strong once again for Georgia Tech, its pitching staff enjoyed another solid outing. This time, it was starter Andrew Robinson who lasted five innings and allowed just two runs. His outing came on the heels of a dominating performance in relief from Mark Pope during Sunday’s afternoon game against Elon.
In that first game, Pope shut the Phoenix down by pitching five innings and striking out seven.
It likely comes as a surprise to a lot of college baseball fans to see Southern Mississippi in the regional championship.
By most accounts, the Golden Eagles weren’t even supposed to be in the tournament. A three-seed, it took the Golden Eagles appearing in the Conference USA conference tournament championship last week, in order to make the largely unexpected trip to the Atlanta Regional.
“We’ve for sure been playing our best baseball the past couple of weeks; this was just a little bump in the road,” Southern Mississippi second baseman James Ewing said.
The winner of tonight’s game will take on Florida in next week’s Super Regional in Gainesville, Fla.
Hall not only wants that team to be his, he wants his team to have fans there to celebrate with his players.
Two nights after hosting a crowd of more than 3,000, the Yellow Jackets played in front of 1,376 Sunday night, many of whom were Southern Mississippi fans. Hall hoped his team could have seen a few more Yellow Jackets fans among the spectators.
“I just want to start out first thanking the fans who did show up (Sunday),” Hall said, beginning his opening remarks following the second game. “I hope that they’ll go home and tell their friends what great play they saw out of the Yellow Jackets (Sunday), and maybe (tonight) we’ll have more fans rooting for Georgia Tech than Southern Miss had rooting for their team since we’re hosting this Regional.”
According to Southern Mississippi’s ticket manager, more than 600 of the 1,376 tickets sold Sunday night were given to Golden Eagles supporters.