#TGW: Where Ya' Goin'?

Kel Johnson
Feb. 24, 2015


By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Reality TV has taken over television.

There’s not a network or cable station that doesn’t air some kind of Reality TV show.

But long before the craze/craziness that has rewarded us with shows like “Keeping Up With The Kardashians,” “Hell’s Kitchen,” and “Survivor,” sports was the ultimate Reality TV.

It still is.

Georgia Tech Baseball is an especially compelling watch. In their 5-2 start the Yellow Jackets have recorded five come-from-behind wins, with the last two coming with them facing their final three outs. Saturday’s 16-9 win featured an opportunistic then electrifying eight-run ninth, while Sunday’s comeback was completed on the most dramatic game-ending play in sports, the walk-off home run.

In true Yogi Berra fashion, Tech’s diamond-nine are showing that it really isn’t over ‘til it’s over.

“I don’t think it’s intentional, necessarily, that all of our wins have been come-from-behind,” said freshman Kel Johnson, whose 3-2 walk with one out in the ninth inning in the first game of Saturday afternoon’s first game of the Caravelle Resort’s Baseball at the Beach against No. 23 Florida International, brought in what proved to be the game-winning run in an eight-run uprising. “It has worked out that way and I think it does speak for itself to the fact that we’re not a team that’s going to roll over. We’re going to battle it out to the end. That’s just the way we’ve been coached and trained. Nobody’s going to give up due to a small deficit there at the end. We’re going to play all 27 outs.”

Saturday’s comeback appeared to come out of nowhere and prevented what would have been a demoralizing loss. The Jackets had led 7-3 after three innings and even added an insurance run in the top of the seventh to extend the lead to 8-6, before the Panthers plated three in the bottom of the seventh to take a 9-8 lead. The Jackets even squandered an opportunity, leaving the bases loaded in the eighth.

But the bottom of the order came up big in the ninth, as left fielder Keenan Innis, who entered the game in the seventh, walked, and catcher Arden Pabst reached on an error. After second baseman Wade Bailey reached on a fielder’s choice, turning over the lineup, leadoff hitter centerfielder Daniel Spingola loaded the bases and first baseman Thomas Smith brought in the game-tying run, as both were plunked by pitches. After a pitching change, Johnson walked to give Tech a 10-9 lead. The tenacious Jackets had taken the lead without a hit and putting only one ball in play.

That would change in a big way, as DH A.J. Murray blasted a 1-0 pitch over the wall in left, his third hit of the day, his 10th career homer and second career grand slam. Connor Justus would add an RBI single and Pabst would an RBI double to complete the onslaught.

Against Albany the next day, the Jackets again made lightning strike but a lot quicker, this time overcoming an 8-6 lead without recording an out. Again the rally came out of nowhere, as they hadn’t scored in five straight innings, managing only two hits in that span. They’d also left runs on the field, leaving the bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings. The Great Danes’ 8-6 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth looked even more formidable with Albany pitcher Stephen Woods on the hill. Woods hadn’t allowed a hit in his 2 ⅔ innings of work, striking out four in the process.

“The pitcher for Albany was very good. He had a good arm. he had a live arm. The ball was jumping off his hand, he was hitting spots well,” said Johnson. “So coming into that inning I knew we just had to slow the game down, see some pitches, make him throw strikes and wait for a mistake pitch. It couldn’t have been drawn up any better. We had a couple of guys get on base there, Daniel Gooden had a huge walk there in the bottom of the ninth and then Arden just got an elevated fastball early in the count and just crushed it. Everything came together perfectly there at the end.”

After Woods retired his seventh straight batter to start the inning, recording his fifth strikeout, Innis, who started Saturday’s rally with a walk, reached on a fielding error at second-base on an 0-1 pitch. Coach Danny Hall then went to his bench, calling upon freshman Daniel Gooden, who drew a four-pitch walk.

Ryan Peurifoy was called upon to run for Gooden.

Peurifoy barely concluded his warm-up when Pabst jumped on a first-pitch fastball, launching a no-doubter over the wall in left-center for the game-winning three-run homer.

In a matter of six pitches, the Yellow Jackets went from glumly staring at a 1-2 weekend to euphorically admiring a blast that gave them a winning weekend.

Johnson was not surprised at the efficiency of the bottom of the order, which had been at the center of both rallies. He expected it.

“On Opening Day, reading through our lineup I made that realization,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘You know what? the bottom of our order could probably be the top of the order in most lineups. It’s phenomenal. Those kids can tear the cover off the baseball.’

“Growing up it’s something that I haven’t had a whole lot of experience with,” he added. “Typically, growing up in travel baseball, you have what people would consider dead wood or dead weight at the bottom of the order and it’s just not the case for us at all. The guys down there can really crush the baseball. Arden Pabst [Sunday]. I think he was hitting seventh or eighth in the game and he hit a ball that probably cleared the left-centerfield fence by like 50 feet. So I just wonder what the other teams’ coaches were thinking.”

Their thoughts probably went something along the lines of, “I wish we hadn’t given them extra outs.” Both FIU and Albany committed errors that fueled the Jackets’ comebacks and between them allowed three walks, committed three errors, and hit two batters. Against FIU, seven of Tech’s runs and three of the eight in the ninth were unearned (the Panthers also committed a balk in the ninth that moved runners up). Albany only allowed one unearned run but the error opened the door in the ninth, snapping a string of five straight Jackets retired.

“At this level in general if you’re making errors late in ballgames it has a good probability of coming back to bite you,” Johnson said. “We were able to come out on the good end of that a couple of times there.”

The Jackets would like to keep the momentum going as they head into Tuesday’s midweek game at Auburn (Wednesday’s game with Georgia State has been cancelled due to inclement weather). Yet, as good as the late wins felt, they would prefer to break the habit of having to come from behind.

Tech took a step in that direction over the weekend, scoring first and in the first inning in all three games, outscoring their opponents 7-0. Ideally, the Jackets would like to continue that trend then add on, so as to avoid the necessity of a last-at-bat win.

“Getting the momentum early in the ball game is crucial,” Johnson said. “We’ve lost the lead in several games there but scoring early and jumping on a team and continuing to add on, I think that’s the way it’s drawn up and that’s the way we want to go about it. Hopefully if we do fall behind we’ll continue to battle it out but hopefully we can hold onto that first-inning lead in upcoming games and keep building on it.”

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