On Tuesday, April 27, the Tech baseball team faced Georgia for the third time this season after defeating UGA by a combined score of 31-10 in the two previous games at each team’s home field. In Tuesday night’s contest, the game was close and Tech needed clutch two-out hits to win. Tech got them and finished off the sweep by defeating the Bulldogs 6-4 in the eighth annual Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Spring Classic, played at Turner Field before 16,194 fans from both teams.
It was the first time Tech had swept UGA in the regular season since 1994.
“It [the sweep] feels great, and I hope there’s not 16 years in between the next one. It’s a great feeling to beat them three times. We hadn’t won at Turner Field for a long time either, so to get a win here was great,” said Head Coach Danny Hall.
The event annually swaps which team is the home team, and this year Tech was the road squad. As a result, Tech came to bat in the top of the first and put two runners on but could not score.
Tech sophomore right-hander Mark Pope assumed his usual role of weekday starting pitcher for this contest, and the hard-throwing Pope pitched well to start the game. He did not surrender a hit until the sixth inning.
After the Jackets left two runners stranded on base to leadoff the top of the first inning, Pope took the mound for the bottom half of the inning and struck out the first batter he faced. Pope carried his momentum throughout the inning and retired the Bulldogs in order, including another strikeout.
Pope made his first mistake in the bottom of the second inning when he hit UGA center fielder Zach Cone with a pitch, putting Cone on base with nobody out. Pope rebounded and picked off Cone with a quick move to first base for the first out of the inning. He then got a groundout and a fly out to end the inning.
Through three innings Pope had faced only nine batters, the minimum possible, and had four strikeouts. The Jackets were struggling to produce offensively, though, and the game remained a 0-0 tie through three innings.
After doubling in the first inning, senior first baseman Tony Plagman led off the fourth inning for the Jackets but was unable to get on base, flying out to right field. The rest of the Jackets went down quietly, bringing Pope back out to the mound. Pope got the first batter to fly out on the first pitch of the inning, then struck out the next batter he faced. After four innings, the teams had combined for one hit and zero runs.
Tech went down in order to leadoff the fifth and Pope ran into trouble in the bottom of the fifth. With one out already recorded, sophomore third baseman Matt Skole sailed a throw over Plagman’s head, giving the Bulldogs their second base runner of the game. Pope then walked the next batter he faced after running the count full. Pope would continue to struggle with his control as a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position. He regained his composure after that, though, and struck out the next two batters he faced to end the inning.
The Jackets got a runner into scoring position in the sixth but were unable bring him home.
Pope entered the bottom half with his no-hitter intact, but that ended quickly. UGA got its first hit of the ballgame with a leadoff two-strike bunt single by third baseman Todd Hankins.
“I wasn’t too happy with that two-strike bunt, but it was a perfect bunt,” Pope said.
After UGA left fielder Johnathan Taylor singled, another bunt single by right fielder Peter Verdin loaded the bases with no outs. A pair of infield singles plated two runs for the Bulldogs, but Pope was able to get out of the jam by getting a pop-out and two more strikeouts to limit the damage.
“It’s part of the game [cheap hits]. Sometimes it just happens, but you just try to minimize the damage [the best] you can. I was just happy they only came out with two runs in that inning,” Pope said.
Down 2-0, Tech tried to answer in the seventh inning. Skole and junior right fielder Chase Burnette singled giving Tech two base runners. However, two fly outs ended the inning and stranded the runners. Pope allowed two more singles in the bottom of the frame but UGA was unable to add to its small lead.
Pope finished the game with seven innings pitched, two earned runs, and nine strikeouts.
After a fly out to start the eighth inning, it looked as though Tech might get shut out for the first time all season, but Tech’s bats finally came to life. Junior center fielder Jeff Rowland took a 1-0 pitch to center field for a double. Junior shortstop Derek Dietrich singled to put runners on the corners for Plagman, who flied out to center field but he hit the ball hard enough to advance Rowland and score the first run of the game for the Jackets.
After a pitching change, junior catcher Cole Leonida singled off new UGA pitcher Jeff Walters to move Dietrich to second base. Skole came up to bat and raked a ball down the right field line, just out of the reach of the Bulldog outfielder. Skole made it to third and scored both runners, giving Tech the lead at 3-2.
Tech scored three more times in the inning as 11 batters came to the plate, and the Jackets led 6-2.
“Everybody’s a little nervous in the first few at bats, a little tight, but I kind of got loose in there, took better swings and put the ball in play, and it worked out,” Skole said.
The Bulldogs took advantage as Tech turned to its bullpen. Senior right-hander Patrick Long relieved Pope and got two strikeouts but did allow a runner to reach second base. After a wild pitch and a walk, senior pitcher Andrew Robinson allowed a two-run double, putting the score at 6-4 in favor of the Jackets heading into the ninth inning.
Tech was unable to add to their lead in the ninth inning and UGA got a two-out double but were unable to turn it into any runs as Robinson closed the game for his fourth save of the season.