Jackets continue postseason woes

Despite being quickly eliminated from the ACC Tournament, the Tech baseball team still hosted a portion of the NCAA Tournament on June 3-5. The Jackets made it to the Championship Round of the Atlanta Regional, but could not advance to the Super Regional round despite having home field advantage.

The Jackets, the top seed in the regional, hosted No. 4 seed Austin Peay on the first day but put themselves in an early hole by losing 2-1.

The game started with a scoreless tie through two innings, as neither team was able to capitalize on some early chances. However, the momentum turned against Tech when junior starting pitcher Mark Pope injured his back and was forced to come out of the game.

The good news for the Jackets was that freshman pitcher Matthew Grimes was a more than serviceable replacement, going 6.2 innings and only giving up two runs. The bad news was that Pope’s season was done and that Grimes, Tech’s fourth starter, would be unable to start another game.

Austin Peay scored the first run of the game in the fourth inning by playing small ball and taking easy hit opportunities. After a couple of hits, Matt Wollenzin hit a sac fly to score John Hogan.

Tech answered in the bottom of the fourth when three singles scored freshman catcher Zane Evans from third.

Tech left four runners on base from the fourth inning onward, and Austin Peay struggled to find their stroke offensively until Hogan homered in the seventh inning to score the go-ahead run. Tech was unable to score again, and Austin Peay finished the upset.

With Tech’s number one pitcher done for the season, the Jackets relied on their second ace, junior Jed Bradley, to continue the season.

Bradley responded well and picked up the victory over Southern Mississippi 6-2. Bradley pitched for 7.2 innings and only allowed two runs. Bradley showed good command of his game en route to four strikeouts.

Tech only needed two innings to secure the win over the Golden Eagles, as a five run second inning gave the Jackets the lead for good.

Freshman designated hitter Daniel Palka homered to lead off the inning. Three more players reached base safely and sophomore left fielder Brandon Thomas ended the inning with a three-run homer.

Southern Miss used three pitchers in the first three innings before finally settling on Collin Cargill, who pitched the remaining 5.1 innings.

Cargill did not give up a single run, but the Southern Miss batters could not overcome a six-run deficit. The loss eliminated the Golden Eagles from the regional.

In Tech’s third game, sophomore pitcher Buck Farmer followed Bradley’s pitching effort with a great day of his own on Sunday.

Farmer went the full nine innings in a rematch with Austin Peay, and Tech’s offense gave him plenty of support. The Jackets hit the ground running, scoring early and winning 12-2.

Palka hit a homer in the first inning, and Tech gave Farmer a three-run lead before he even threw his first pitch.

Tech added three more runs over the next five innings before breaking the game open in the seventh. Several Jackets scattered hits in the five-run seventh, but the big blow was sophomore first baseman Jake Davies’ two-run homer, his fifth homer of the season.

Tech had won two straight games to stay alive, but the Jackets would be forced to defeat Mississippi State twice in the next 24 hours without a starting pitcher who was healthy enough to pitch and keep their season alive.

Head Coach Danny Hall selected freshman pitcher DeAndre Smelter to start the Sunday night game, and Smelter was over matched from the beginning of the game. The Bulldogs ended the Jackets’ season by with a 7-3 victory.

Smelter only pitched 2.1 innings, but got the loss and allowed six hits. Smelter was only charged with one earned run, but allowed five unearned runs to score as Tech committed five errors in the game.

Fatigue from the second game of a double-header, coupled with a six-run hole to start the game, seemed to take a toll on the Jackets’ offense. The team was only able to muster six hits in the game, and four batters were hitless in the game.

Tech ended the regular season with a 39-17 overall record, but struggled to a 3-4 mark in the postseason. Tech returns one of the youngest rosters in the country next season, with 17 freshmen playing on the 2011 team.

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