The Jackets’ baseball team lost their first meeting against the University of Georgia Bulldogs 1-0 with a controversial walk off run in the bottom of the ninth in Athens. The Jackets (7-5) and Bulldogs (6-6) both failed to score a single run through eight innings before the Bulldogs’ Brandon Stephens singled in the winning run with two outs left in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Both teams were helped by strong pitching. Senior Alex Cruz pitched five scoreless innings in his first start of the season. Cruz gave up five hits and struck out two while giving up one walk on 67 pitches. Senior Jonathan Roberts gave up just two hits in three scoreless innings in relief of Cruz, striking out two and walking one batter over 34 pitches.
Freshman Tanner Shelton came into the game to start the bottom of the ninth inning. Shelton struck out the first batter he faced before walking the Bulldogs’ Zack Bowers. He would get one more out before being relieved by senior Dusty Isaacs. With the Bulldogs batting with a man on first and two outs, it appeared as if the game would be headed to extra innings. However, a controversial call after Isaacs’ first pitch would completely change the tone of the game.
The Bulldogs’ Sean McLaughlin, pinch-running for Bowers, took off for second base on Isaacs’ pitch in an attempt to put himself into scoring position. Tech’s senior catcher Mitch Earnest threw to second to catch McLaughlin, but his throw flew over the reach of senior second baseman Mott Hyde and into center field, allowing McLaughlin to advance to third base uncontested. However, Tech believed that Stephens interfered with Ernest by not allowing him to make a clean throw to second. In the replay, it appeared as if Earnest did indeed bump into Stephens on his follow through, but no call was made on the field, leaving the Bulldogs’ with a runner on third base with two outs.
Stephens would connect on Isaacs’ second pitch of the night, putting it down the center of the infield and just under Jackets’ shortstop freshman Elliott Barzilli’s glove for a single for Georgia’s eighth and final hit of the game, allowing McLaughlin to trot home for the game winning run.
“He definitely hit something and my catcher’s generally not going to throw the ball into centerfield,” said Tech coach Danny Hall to ramblinwreck.com. “The umpire felt that their guy was in the box, and until I see a replay, I’m not going to know. It’s a tough way to lose a game for sure.”
Tech was stymied offensively, thanks to a great performance by Georgia’s freshman starting pitcher Robert Tyler. Tyler, in his second career start for the Bulldogs, threw eight scoreless innings. He gave up just two hits and a walk and threw 100 pitches, striking out five Jackets in the process. Jared Cheek came in for a perfect inning of relief, allowing just one hit and striking out two. However, junior first baseman Thomas Smith did extend his hitting streak to eight games with two hits on the night.
“It was going to come down to whoever got a hit. We had a guy in scoring position a couple times, and couldn’t bring him in. They obviously got the guy to third there late and Stephens got the big hit,” Hall said.
The Jackets’ first of three meetings against the Bulldogs was tough loss, but Hall was already looking ahead in the schedule as they open up ACC play tomorrow.
“You never want to lose to Georgia, but we’ll get the chance to play them two more times,” Hall said. “We’ve got to move on. We open up in the conference this weekend and we’ve got to be ready to go.”