The junior college transfer spent much of the season as the team’s midweek starter. But over the last month, due to an injury to teammate Xzavion Curry, Willingham has taken his spot at the top of the rotation and lived up to expectations.
The right-hander from Summerville did it again on Friday night. He pitched six innings and allowed two runs in a 13-2 win over Florida A&M in the NCAA Atlanta Regional at Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Stadium. The win pushed the Yellow Jackets into the winner’s bracket game against Auburn on Saturday.
“I was proud of Amos to just give up two runs,” coach Danny Hall said. “He was in some tough spots, but made his pitches when he needed him to keep that lead.”
Willingham, a lanky 6-foot-4 starter, was not heavily recruited when he finished at Snead State (Ala.) Community College, largely because of an illness that prevented him from pitching much of his sophomore season. But now that he’s healthy, he has shown the ability to deliver under most any circumstance.
By pitching deep in the game on Friday, Willingham saved Tech’s bullpen from some early burnout. Jonathan Hughes, who pitched an inning of relief, settled the game. And when Tech scored eight runs in the final two innings, it was able to use Jake Lee and Robert Winborne to finish the game rather than burn their more-proven relievers.
“I thought it was huge that we didn’t have to burn anybody really,” Hall said.
Despite his success, Willingham wasn’t satisfied with his performance. Willingham pitched six innings and allowed two runs on six hits and four strikeouts — the identical numbers he put up last week in the opening round of the ACC Tournament.
“I would say I was a little disappointed in myself, just the way I did command the baseball,” Willingham said. “They did a good job of not helping me out when I did throw pitches that were close to the plate. You’re not going to have your best stuff every day and you just have to work with whatever you have.”
Florida A&M coach Jamey Shouppe disagreed and cited Willingham for his ability to throw inside for strikes.
“He was throwing inside very well, especially early in the game,” Shouppe said. “He never got behind hitters, challenged hitters. We made too many quick outs, which is something Georgia Tech didn’t have. His fastball command inside, I think, was the difference.”
Willingham wasn’t perfect. He worked around a single in the first and benefited from inning-ending double plays in the second and third innings. His only perfect frame was the fourth.
His biggest trouble spot came in the fifth when he allowed two runs. The Rattlers benefited from a pair of hit batters and a perfectly executed bunt. But Willingham was able to get out of the inning by striking out No. 3 hitter Tucker Rayburn with two outs.
Willingham worked around a leadoff double to work a scoreless sixth inning. With a runner at third and one out, he got a strikeout and an easy fly ball for an out.
He started the seventh but was lifted after allowing a leadoff double.
“I tried to attack their guys with fastballs and my curveball. You have to trust your defense and I felt like we did a really good job as a team to keep ourselves in that game.”