Georgia Tech and Georgia may play another 359 games and not play another one like they did Tuesday night.
Three weeks after the Bulldogs put a 17-0 thumping on the Yellow Jackets at Turner Field – Tech’s worst loss in the history of the rivalry – the two teams engaged in a competition that challenged belief. The conclusion after 11 innings was a 14-13 win for Georgia.
Said Georgia coach David Perno, “It was bizarre.”
The game in short – Tech led 7-0 after three innings, only to have Georgia storm back and take a 13-8 lead after 7 ½ innings. The Jackets answered with their own five in the bottom of the eighth, needing only one hit to do the damage.
Tech scored 10 of its 13 runs with two outs. The game hinged twice on balls popped up that fielders couldn’t track. Georgia designated hitter Jess Posey tied a school record with five walks. Tech center fielder Brandon Thomas tied a school record of his own, matching the Tech record for putouts by an outfielder with nine.
Three years after Tech’s 25-6 win over Georgia and three weeks after the Bulldogs gained revenge with their 17-0 blowout, the 359th game between the archrivals gained its place in series history.
“It’s strange,” Tech third baseman Sam Dove said. “Every time we get together, it feels like something just weird happens.”
The game-winning run was delivered in the top of the 11th by Jared Walsh, who lifted a Daniel Palka breaking ball deep enough to center to score Curt Powell on a sacrifice fly. The win gave Georgia the regular-season series two games to one, the first for the Bulldogs since 2007.
“Really been pitchers’ duels the last two games – 13-14, 17 (-0), but it’s awesome,” Walsh said. “17-0 was a little less stressful – I think my blood pressure’s a little bit higher in this game – but I’ll take it. Anytime you can beat Tech – they’ve got such an outstanding team – it’s a lot of fun.”
In the bottom of the 11th, Tech could scarcely have requested a more advantageous scenario to send the game to the 12th. With one out, Kyle Wren hit a one-out double and then stole third. As was the case with Georgia in the top half of the inning, Tech had a runner on third with one out. But where Walsh delivered with a sacrifice fly, Tech’s Nos. 2 and 3 hitters, Brandon Thomas and Palka, both struck out swinging to end the game.
Georgia reliever Mike Mancuso got the win with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. He had five strikeouts with no walks and just one hit. After the ninth, “I said, ‘Mike, we’re down. We need you to stay (in the game),’” Georgia coach David Perno said. “He said, ‘I’m here till the end. Whatever it takes.’”
The game lasted 4 hours and 26 minutes, ending just past midnight. To reach its completion, the game was stuffed with 11 pitchers, 432 pitches, 33 hits and 17 walks.
The Jackets roared to a 7-0 lead, seemingly intent on settling the score from their 17-0 loss run for run. Sam Dove hit a two-out single for a 2-0 lead in the first, and then Kyle Wren, Palka and Zane Evans all hit crisp singles with two outs that scored one run each. Mitch Earnest made the score 7-0 in the third when he dumped a single into right that scored two.
Pitcher Josh Heddinger was on a roll through four, facing one over the minimum 12. In the fifth, he got Zack Bowers to hit a pop to first that looked like an inning-ending putout. However, first baseman A.J. Murray lost track of the ball and it fell to the infield dirt, allowing Brett DeLoach to score from second. With the extra out, Nelson Ward punished the Jackets with a three-run homer, just the second home run of his career but also the second in the past four games.
“We needed a mistake, and they made one, and we took advantage and got back in the game,” Perno said.
Georgia barreled ahead with three more runs in the sixth to close to 8-7 and then moved into the lead with five in the eighth for a 13-8 lead. Down to six outs, the Jackets’ chances appeared dim and just about dark when Thomas Smith hit a pop to center for what appeared to be the third out. However, it was Georgia’s turn for a mistake in the field, as center fielder Justin Bryan was unable to track the ball. He leapt at the last moment, but the ball fell. Three hustling Jackets scored on the play, which tied the game at 13.
Another Tech victory via late-game theatrics seemed nigh. The Jackets had won both games of their series victory over North Carolina this past weekend on their last at-bat. They had beaten the Tar Heels Sunday after going into the bottom of the seventh down five runs.
“They’ve got a lot of fight in them,” Tech coach Danny Hall said. “I wish we could make it easier on ourselves and not have to rally all the time. That’s kind of been our story.”
Tech had chances for more drama. In the eighth, after Bryan’s error cleared the bases and put Smith on second, pinch-hitter Matt Gonzalez hit a rocket to deep center that Bryan was able to bring in.
In the ninth, with runners on first and second and two out, Dove ripped a Mancuso pitch down the third-base line.
Dove’s heart leapt, but Georgia third baseman Curt Powell snagged the ball and stepped on third to end the inning and send it to extras.
“I squared that one up about as good as I could,” Dove said. “It was just right at him.”
In the 10th, Mott Hyde, who hit a walk-off home run last Friday against North Carolina, came close to dialing up the same magic, but his drive fell just short, a long fly out to Bryan.
“Very proud of our comeback, but it’s disappointing,” Hall said.
Tech (32-21) will complete the regular season this weekend at Miami before beginning ACC tournament play May 22 in Durham, N.C.
Georgia (19-31) plays its last remaining series this weekend at home against Florida. The Bulldogs will need to sweep the Gators and get help to have a chance to make the 12-team SEC tournament.
Perno, whose team has had little to celebrate this season, can at least close the season with two wins over the Jackets, including the first Georgia win at Russ Chandler since 2004.