Baseball falls in NCAA regional

Tech baseball’s hopes of reaching the College World Series came to an end in the first round of the postseason. Hosting the Atlanta Regional for the second straight season, the Jackets won their first two games but dropped back-to-back contests against Alabama, falling in the double-elimination tournament that took place June 4-7.

The Jackets were the top seed in a four-team field that included No. 2 seed Alabama, No. 3 Elon and No. 4 Mercer.

After Alabama defeated Elon 11-2 in the opener on June 4, Tech took on a Mercer squad that was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance after winning the Atlantic Sun title. The Jackets had no trouble picking up the victory, performing well in all aspects of the game en route to a 10-0 victory.

Leading the way was sophomore pitcher Mark Pope, who pitched the first complete-game shutout of his career. Pope needed just 110 pitches in going the distance, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out 10.

“I never dreamed [Pope] would be able to go nine innings…but he kept his pitch count down and…[had] an outstanding performance,” said Head Coach Danny Hall.

At the plate, senior first baseman Tony Plagman had a stellar performance, going 5-for-5 with a pair of home runs and three RBI. His two homers gave him 55 for his career. Redshirt senior left fielder Jay Dantzler and sophomore second baseman Jacob Esch also added home runs as Tech took its opener easily.

The following day began with an elimination game between Elon and Mercer, and the lower-seeded Mercer squad rode its lineup to a 13-7 victory, eliminating Elon from the field. That evening, Tech and Alabama faced off, and the Jackets won 5-2 in one of the lowest-scoring contests of the weekend.

The key for Tech was once again a strong performance on the mound. This one came from junior right-hander Deck McGuire; the team’s longtime Friday starter pitched eight innings, allowing two runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out six.

Junior right fielder Chase Burnette went 3-for-4 with a solo homer, and Esch had another strong game, going 2-for-3 with three RBI.

“Many times in postseason play, it’s the guy you least expect to do the damage who comes up there and gets a big hit,” Hall said.

Alabama survived an elimination game against Mercer the following day, holding off the Bears 5-3 to eliminate Mercer from the tournament. That set up an evening rematch between the Tide and the Jackets, but this time it was Alabama that came out on top, 8-1.

The Tide jumped on Tech junior right-hander Brandon Cumpton in the first inning, scoring five runs.

“[Cumpton] wasn’t missing by a whole lot; the problem is when he was missing, he was missing high,” said junior catcher Cole Leonida.

Meanwhile, the Tide got a strong pitching performance to key the victory. Left-hander Adam Morgan, a native of Marietta, Ga., pitched a complete game, allowing five hits and one walk while striking out nine. Tech’s only run came on a solo homer by sophomore third baseman Matt Skole.

With both teams facing elimination, it came down to a winner-take-all battle on the night of Monday, June 7. In a game that was a shootout for several innings, Alabama rode a superb relief performance by junior right-hander Nathan Kilcrease to a 10-8 victory and a berth in the Super Regional round.

After allowing six early runs, the Tide turned to the 5-foot-6 Kilcrease. Working on two days’ rest, Kilcrease entered the game in the fourth inning and went the rest of the way for Alabama. Kilcrease threw 107 pitches, and despite allowing ten Tech baserunners he held the Jackets scoreless through the final five innings.