May 28, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Prior to last weekend's ACC Tournament, Georgia Tech Baseball Head Coach Danny Hall spoke cautiously about his team's getting into the NCAA Tournament.
"I'll never say that [we're in] until I hear our name picked on Monday," said Hall.
That trepidation wasn't removed on Monday afternoon, but simply replaced. The question of where his team was going took precedence over if it was going to get in.
The selection committee put Hall's angst to rest quickly. The answer came within the first five minutes of the Selection show.
The Yellow Jackets are headed South to the Gainesville Regional, which will be hosted by the University of Florida, the nation's No. 1 team. Tech will be on the opposite side of the bracket from the Gators and will open against the Cougars of the College of Charleston on Friday. They'll then play either UF or the Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman, representing the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Georgia Tech is 2-0 all-time against the Cougars, having beaten them twice in the 2006 Atlanta Regional on the way to the College World Series, Tech's last appearance. They have never met Florida or Bethune-Cookman in NCAA Tournament play.
"We're in the Regional that has the No. 1 seed in the country, so, obviously, it's a tough draw," Hall said. "You have a Southern Conference team in College of Charleston and we have Bethune-Cookman, who I really don't know anything about but anytime you get to 64 teams left, they've all qualified and won a lot of games, so they're all good."
Tech's priorities heading into the Tournament change every season and certainly have heading into 2012. In the past, the pressure of advancing as host loomed over them. The Jackets hosted Regionals each of the last three years and finished runner-up all three years.
This time around, crashing the dance will suffice. They plan to be rude guests.
They're certainly not afraid. Nor should they be, as they have history on their side -- even if the ink is still tacky from the history they authored last weekend.
Last Thursday afternoon, Georgia Tech entered play in the ACC Tournament seeded eighth in the eight-team field. That meant a Tournament opener against top-seed and National No. 1 Florida State.
They played with nothing to lose, and didn't.
"We weren't really tight. Nobody expected us to even come close to beating Florida State," said first baseman Jake Davies. "So we went out there relaxed, ready to go, and just played the game the right way."
Led by Davies, the Tournament MVP, clutch pitching by starters ace Buck Farmer, Cole Pitts, Davies and the trio of freshman Josh Heddinger, senior Jarrett Didrick, and finally Zane Evans, who threw three perfect innings, the Jackets dominated. They trailed for a total of 1 1/2 innings in four games, and brought home the trophy, becoming the first eighth seed to do so.
They'll take the same approach to Gainesville.
"I think the whole mindset was we were the No. 8 seed. No one really expected us to do anything," said Evans. "All we had to do was relax, have fun and play the game that we've been playing our whole lives. I think it proved well for us."
Tech has gotten people's attention and will have more expected of them than they did in Greensboro, even if the slate -- Florida notwithstanding -- doesn't appear as daunting.
They'll open with CofC, from the Southern Conference. They were 21-9 within the SoCon (tied for tops with Appalachian State), and were 16-12 away from home.
The Jackets will go into play Friday knowing little more about Charleston than what they can get from phone calls to other coaches, and what Hall has on TiVo -- certainly less than they knew about their ACC competition -- they're biggest concern is with themselves and continuing to do what they did last weekend.
"The next couple of days is important," said Farmer, who came up huge in the Regionals last year, throwing a complete-game, five-hitter in the 12-2 win over Austin Peay that keep Tech alive. "Get ourselves prepared, keep hitting the ball well, keep getting good swings in in the cage and also preparing ourselves defensively.
"We knew once we all came together, once we got everything going all in sync with our defense and offense, we were going to be a tough team to beat and it showed this past weekend," he added. "We had our hitting, we had our pitching, we had our defense. As the eighth-seed to go 4-0 and win the Tournament was huge for us."
Evans believes that Tech will need similar quality work from the starters to advance.
"It depends on our pitching rotation but I think we have a good chance," he said. "We showed that we could play with the No. 1 team in the nation and I think if our hitting stays solid and our pitching continues the way it has, we'll be alright."
Who will step up is still to be determined, but there is no shortage of candidates, as so many already have and continue to.
"When we had people go down, we needed people to step up," said Farmer. "[Second baseman] Thomas Smith and Davies and Pitts they all stepped up and fell into their roles. It was a little bit of a rocky start for us but once we got everything going, we started playing great baseball."
The last six ACC Tournament Champions have reached the College World Series, but Hall isn't counting on his team automatically being the seventh.
"There are great teams in the ACC and all of us are capable of getting to Omaha but that statement is a fact but it doesn't transfer to this year," he said. "This year is this year. It's totally different.
"A new season starts on Friday," he continued. "We had great momentum, played great this past week. Now we've got to gather ourselves here for a couple of days, have a couple of good practices and go to Gainesville and hope that we can gather that momentum again for a weekend."