#TGW: Payback's a Pitt
Baseball focused in on avenging `14 Panthers sweep, improving ACC position
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Selective memory can be baseball players' best friend on the field during games and off it afterward in bouncing back.
But, make no mistake, they still are competitors and have long memories. They never truly forget bad a bad loss.
Conjuring up memories from last season could come in handy for Georgia Tech (30-17, 11-13) this weekend when it hosts Coastal Division rival Pittsburgh (16-29, 6-18) in the final home series of the season.
The memory upon which they'll be focusing is last year's inaugural ACC series in Pittsburgh, during which the Panthers swept the Jackets, last March 28-30, winning 4-3 in 13 innings, 5-0 and 4-2 in a series where temperatures hovered around the 40s all weekend. (This weekend will be around 90 all three days.)
"Oh, I think everybody that is on the team understands how bad we were last year at Pittsburgh," said Coach Danny Hall. "So I think that's fresh on everybody's mind that was on our trip."
"I'm very confident in saying that we're not looking past Pittsburgh," said infielder Thomas Smith, who along with infielder/catcher A.J. Murray, centerfielder Daniel Spingola, and pitchers Cole Pitts and Devin Stanton, will be honored on Saturday in a pregame Senior Day ceremony. "They got us all three games up at their place. So we're pretty motivated to return the favor. I think we're really motivated and focused on winning the series this weekend. It will be big and every series counts."
The Jackets begin the weekend in 10th place in the Conference, good enough to hold the final seed in the ACC Tournament, which begins May 19 in Durham. But there is nothing settled as spots four through 10 are still up in the air, with eight teams sitting three games apart -- including No. 11 Virginia, which starts the weekend one game behind Georgia Tech.
It's reminiscent of 2014.
"I think we kind of saw that to a degree last year, in that in the last weekend I think we had a chance to finish as high as third and ended up finishing 10th," said Hall. "I just think there's a lot of parity once you get past the top couple of teams. The last two weekends are going to be very interesting for sure."
"I've never seen this many teams beat up on each other in conference this much," Smith said. "It's usually a little more set at this point but I think there's a wide range of spots we could move into going into the ACC Tournament. I don't think it's ever been that wide open."
The Jackets, who have won seven of their last nine games and three of their last four ACC series, would love to improve their position at the expense of the Panthers, who bring up the rear in the Coastal, having have lost 13 of their last 15 ACC games and being swept in four of their last five conference series.
While the teams appear headed in opposite directions, the Jackets aren't counting on anything and certainly won't peek ahead at next week in Coral Gables against Coastal leader Miami.
"We have to be ready to play and we're going to have to play our best," said Hall. "We're not good enough to show up and beat anybody. So we've got to pitch well, hit well, play defense and be on top of our game."
"We set a goal when we split Clemson that for our last three series we needed at least six wins," said sophomore outfielder Ryan Peurifoy, who brings a seven-game hitting streak into the weekend, during which he is hitting .464 (13-for-28). "We need to get at least two if not three. If we fall short of two, that's definitely unacceptable."
Coincidentally, the Jackets will play the weekend series with Pittsburgh following a midweek game with Mercer for the second straight season. Last year, Tech dropped the game to Mercer preceding getting swept. In what they hope is an omen, the Jackets topped the Bears in Macon, pulling out a dramatic 9-7 victory on Tuesday night.
The win definitely followed a season-long trend.
Tech led 4-2 after seven, before the Bears took the lead with a four-run eighth. But, as they've done all year, the Jackets rallied, scoring five times in the ninth on two-run singles from Matt Gonzalez and Arden Pabst, which sandwiched a bases-loaded walk to Kel Johnson. Zac Ryan threw a scoreless ninth to close out Tech's 17th come-from-behind victory of the season and fourth when trailing entering in the ninth.
"It's pretty impressive how we seem to manage and deal with being down," said Peurifoy, who blasted a two-run homer in the second, giving him home runs in back-to-back games for the first time in his career, and who had the series-winning walk-off single in the 10th against Clemson two weekends back. "We just continue to battle through games and even if we give up a four-spot in the eighth inning we're pretty good at answering and putting up a five spot the very next inning."
"You don't want to get down and you never want to have to come back but I think it really shows a lot about the character of the team for us to do it that many times and to really never give in, no matter how big the deficit is," said Smith, who begins play Friday with a career-high 32 walks (12th in the ACC, 71st in the nation), six more than his previous season-high, a career-high-tying .407 on-base percentage, and a five-game hitting streak. "We were down 8-1 last weekend and were able to come back. So just knowing that this team is never going to give up is really reassuring. When you look at the guy next to you you know that he's going to give it his best to get back in the game."
Hall likes his team's heart but admitted the frequency of the late-inning heroics aren't doing his stomach a lot of good.
"No, they're not," he said, with a laugh. "I kind of kidded [Deputy Director of Athletics] Brett Daniels, who rode down with us on the bus yesterday. He was walking out of the stadium with me and I just looked at him and said, `It's a hell of a way to make a living.' But they've definitely been cardiac kids."