The game meant nothing in the ACC tournament, but Georgia Tech’s 7-5 loss to N.C. State in 12 innings Friday night in Durham, N.C., was a crusher nonetheless.
In the final pool-play game between teams already eliminated from contention, the Yellow Jackets lost the grip on a two-run ninth-inning lead and then squandered a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the 11th.
From the perspective of Tech’s qualifications for the NCAA tournament, it may have introduced uncertainty into the Jackets’ candidacy. Tech’s RPI was 20 after the N.C. State loss, but the Jackets were 13-16 in the ACC and were 1-3 in Durham, although the losses were to teams with RPI ranking of Nos. 3 (Miami), 13 (Florida State) and 10 (N.C. State). Tech also lost its final three ACC series.
There is precedent for ACC teams earning bids with sub-.500 league records – in recent seasons, Miami did in 2013 and North Carolina did in 2010. However, Miami finished the regular season 10-6 and North Carolina won 12 of its final 15 regular-season games. Tech was 5-6 over the final three weeks of the regular season.
Tech coach Danny Hall defended his team’s body of work, pointing to the team’s RPI, strength of schedule and its 36 wins (against 22 losses). But, Hall, who had said prior to the ACC tournament that it would be the “crime of the century” if the Jackets weren’t included in the NCAA field, was less confident late Friday night.
“I get asked that question all the time,” he said. “It would have helped us if we would have won this game, there would have been no doubt then. If there’s doubt now, then there’s doubt. I can’t control it.”
Tech will learn its NCAA fate Monday. The Jackets have made the tournament 19 times in Hall’s 22 seasons, but are in jeopardy of missing out in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1983-84 at the start of former coach Jim Morris’ tenure. It may prove painfully ironic that getting into pool play by beating Boston College in a Tuesday play-in game ultimately damaged the Jackets’ chances.
Tech took a 5-3 lead into the top of the ninth, having scored all of its runs in the fourth behind four singles, a Trevor Craport triple, a walk, an error and two wild pitches. In the ninth, ace relief pitcher Matthew Gorst struck out the first two batters, his sixth and seventh strikeouts since coming in in the fifth.
However, after a walk, center fielder Ryan Peurifoy dropped a fly ball for what would have been the final out, instead giving the Wolfpack runners at second and third. Stephen Pitarra then singled up the middle to tie the game and send the game to extra innings.
Gorst went five innings with two runs allowed, both unearned, with eight strikeouts. Hall praised Gorst for his superior performance – his ERA dropped to 0.41 – but called the loss disappointing and frustrating.
“I felt like we played beautifully for most of the game, but you have to get all 27 outs, and we didn’t get that 27th out when we needed to get it,” he said.
In the bottom of the 11th, Tech loaded the bases with one out, but Peurifoy – who made the costly error in the ninth – struck out and Connor Justus grounded out, sending the game to the 12th. There, Brock Deatherage hit a two-run homer off Burton Dulaney for what proved the game-winning runs.
“I honestly thought the script was written for him to kind of redeem himself in the 11th inning,” Hall said. “And it didn’t happen. I wish it would have. Nobody feels worse than he does. So it would have been nice if we could have turned the tables a little bit and he could have knocked in the winning run, but it didn’t happen. It’s tough. It’s tough. I bet he could have that same play 1,000 times and he’ll catch the ball 1,000 times.”