#TGW: Here's to the Cardiac Kids

May 26, 2015

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

The fact that Georgia Tech wasn't among the 34 at-large teams chosen for the 2015 NCAA Baseball Championship was disappointing, having set the bar as high as they did following their 2014 ACC Championship.

But any disappointment of the season's final 32-23 record (13-17 in the ACC) was no reflection on the team's effort and character. They showed tremendous grit, resolve and fight which made them a team that was never out of a game until the 27th out was recorded.

That never-say-die attitude resulted in 18 come-from-behind wins, nine one-run wins, six wins when trailing in the eighth (one fewer than the previous three years combined) and five when down in the ninth (matching their output from 2012-14).

Here are five of the "Cardiac Kids'" most thrilling comebacks from the season gone by.

1. Feb. 17 - 4-1 at Georgia Southern:
Every trend has to start somewhere and Georgia Tech's late-inning heroics started at J.I. Clements Stadium in Statesboro, Ga., on Tuesday, Feb. 17. Down 4-1 in the seventh inning, freshman Kel Johnson launched a towering grand slam off the scoreboard in left off a 2-2 fastball from GSU's Tripp Sheppard to give Tech a 5-4 lead. It was the first grand slam for a Yellow Jackets freshman in six years (Matt Simonds, March 7, 2009 vs. Maryland). Zac Ryan was the beneficiary, earning the win by shutting out Southern over the final 3 ⅓ innings. Freshman second baseman Wade Bailey, who went 3-for-3 at the plate, made an outstanding diving stop for a force play in the bottom of the seventh then hit a two-run double in the eighth, to provide insurance.

2. Feb. 21 - 16-9 vs. No. 23 FIU:
Riding the momentum from the Georgia Southern midweek win, Tech again rallied late, this time putting up a seven-spot in the top of the ninth against Florida International in the opening game of that weekend's Caravelle Resort's Baseball At The Beach. The Jackets let a 7-3 lead slip away and trailed the eventual Conference USA Tournament Champion 9-8 with three outs left, before exploding for eight runs. Left fielder Keenan Innis started the inning off with a walk. Catcher Arden Pabst reached on a bunt single, then, after a balk, with two out, center fielder Daniel Spingola was hit by a pitch to load the bases. First baseman Thomas Smith also was plunked to bring in the tying run. Kel Johnson followed with a run-scoring walk, then D.H. A.J. Murray supplied the coup de grace, blasting his second career grand slam to dead center over the 20-foot-high wall, making it 16-9 and capping the scoring. The outburst pinned a loss on FIU closer Danny Dopico, who would tie for the C-USA lead with 10 saves, and the three runs off Dopico accounted for 30 percent of his total runs allowed for the entire season.

3. March 21 - 6-5 vs. No. 18 North Carolina:
Georgia Tech didn't rely on the grand slam for all its rallies but did show it could come back against some of the best relievers in the nation. In the first game of the March 21 doubleheader against North Carolina at Russ Chandler Stadium, the Jackets victimized durable Tar Heels righty Trevor Kelley. The Jackets reached Kelley for two runs in the eighth to tie the game then another in the ninth to win it, as the Jackets scored the game's final six runs to come back from 5-0 down after five. Jackets relievers Patrick Wiseman, Devin Stanton and Zac Ryan combined to throw four innings of shutout, no-hit ball, allow the Jackets to come back. Down 5-3 with four outs remaining, Connor Justus singled to begin the game-tying rally. Ryan Peurifoy, making his first start of the season, in right, then tripled off the wall in left to drive in his third run of the game, and Daniel Spingola tied the game with a ground-rule double to left. After Ryan threw a perfect ninth, Kel Johnson walked, Matt Gonzalez singled then Thomas Smith laced a Kelley pitch down the left field line to plate the game-winner and give the Jackets their third walk-off win of the season.

4. May 6 - 9-7 at Mercer:
Claude Smith Field in Macon hasn't been kind to Georgia Tech and on May 6, it looked like Mercer was going to add another cruel chapter. A grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning off Zac Ryan gave the Bears a 7-4 lead with three outs remaining. But the Jackets answered back, putting up a five-spot of their own against the eventual Southern Conference champions, and beating Morgan Pittman, the SoCon leader in ERA (2.56), who held hitters to a .250 batting average (fifth in the conference). Connor Justus started the uprising with a single, his fourth hit of his 4-for-5 day. Wade Bailey doubled and Thomas Smith walked to load the bases. Matt Gonzalez's two-run single closed the gap to 7-6 and Kel Johnson's bases-loaded walk tied the game, before Arden Pabst grounded a two-run single to give Tech the lead back and close out the scoring. Ryan did the rest retiring Mercer in the ninth to give the Yellow Jackets their first win at Smith Field since 2010.

5. April 26 - 5-4 vs. Clemson:
Perhaps no late-game rally was more satisfying in 2015 than the series finale against Clemson on April 26 at Russ Chandler Stadium. With each team having had the lead, then surrendering it over five, the Jackets and Tigers battled through four tense scoreless innings before heading into extras tied at 3-3. Clemson took the lead off Zac Ryan in the 10th then quickly got two outs in the bottom half. But the Jackets wouldn't make that third out. With a runner on first, Thomas Smith singled to right and Connor Justus followed with an RBI knock to center, scoring A.J. Murray. After a wild pitch moved the runners up 90 feet, Ryan Peurifoy completed the comeback, grounding a 1-1 pitch from C.U.'s Clate Smith the other way, into right field for the game- and series winner. The Jackets' first series win over Clemson since 2010. The `W' was Tech's 14th of the come-from-behind variety, gave the Jackets a 3-1 record in extra innings and pushed their record to 9-3 in one-run affairs.

Honorable Mention: May 2 - 11-9 vs. Presbyterian:
The Yellow Jackets' biggest comeback of the season came on May 2, in the nightcap of their doubleheader against Presbyterian. Tech spotted the Blue Hose an 8-0 lead after 1 ½ innings, trailed 8-1 after two, 8-5 after six and 9-5 heading into the bottom of the eighth. But there would be no need for ninth-inning heroics, as Tech exploded for six in the their half of the eighth. Freshman third baseman Blake Jackson smacked a two-run single to cut the deficit in half, Wade Bailey followed with an RBI single to make it 9-8, then after Grant Wruble's infield hit loaded the bases, Matt Gonzalez's walk knotted the game. A.J. Murray followed with a go-ahead sac-fly then Wruble added insurance, stealing third and coming in to score on an error. The big eighth was typical for Tech, which outscored its opponents 80-40 over the eighth, ninth and extra innings for the season.