Georgia Tech will begin the ACC baseball tournament in a familiar position.
The Yellow Jackets will play Boston College in a play-in game Tuesday in Durham, N.C., needing to beat the Eagles to make into pool play.
It’s the third consecutive year that the Jackets will be in the play-in game. Tech lost to Virginia last year (the Cavaliers went on to win the national championship, the ACC’s first in baseball since 1955). In 2014, Tech beat Wake Forest and then went on to win the tournament, becoming the lowest seed (No. 9) to win the championship. That followed the Jackets’ surprise run to the title in 2012, when the Jackets won it as a No. 8 seed, the first time a seed that low had ever won.
Tech goes to Durham after dropping two of three to the same Eagles this past weekend at Russ Chandler Stadium. Even if Tech had swept the Eagles, they still wouldn’t have made it into the ACC’s top six to avoid the play-in game. Regardless, the Jackets dropped both Saturday games, the second when they left 15 runners on base and lost 7-6. Tech finished the regular season 35-20 overall and 13-16 in the league.
“We had an opportunity this weekend to try to avoid it, but some of the teams (ahead of Tech) won, which would have made it almost impossible for us to get in there in the first six, so now we’ve got to play the hand that’s deal to us, and that’s (Tuesday) in the play-in game, which we’ve done before,” Hall said Monday.
Will Tech make into the NCAA tournament after missing out last season for just the third time in Hall’s 22 seasons?
“If we’re not in the NCAA tournament, that’d be the crime of the century,” Hall said. “I think that with the No. 1-ranked RPI conference, our RPI is in the top 20, and I think if you look at the number of top-25 games (Tech has played), I think we have either played the most top 25 opponents or we’re very close to playing the most top-25 opponents, and I think that goes a long way.”
Tech’s RPI is No. 19 after the weekend. According to Boyd Nation, who runs the RPI-tracking website Boyd’s World, there has never been an RPI top 20 team that hasn’t made the tournament. However, if the Jackets lose to Boston College and drop out of the top 20 – which conceivably could also happen if the Jackets make it into pool play – it gets a little more cloudy.
Nation gave Tech an 80 percent chance of receiving a bid if it loses to the Eagles, suggesting that the Jackets could get in the mix with other ACC teams such as North Carolina (No. 15 RPI but not in the ACC tournament) and Duke (No. 23 RPI, also in a play-in game).
Tech finished with a sub-.500 record in ACC play for the fourth time in the past five years, and the Jackets finished .500 in the fifth season. In his first 18 seasons, Hall’s teams finished above .500 17 times and at .500 once. On the other hand, Tech’s record is its best at the 55-game point since 2011.
Pitching injuries have contributed significantly to the record to this point. Two pitchers expected to start on the weekend – Jonathan King (shoulder) and Jonathan Hughes (elbow), a second-round pick in last year’s draft – made a combined six starts before getting shelved. Tristin English, another potential starter, hasn’t been able to pitch at all this season because of bone spurs in his elbow.
The Jackets’ offense is healthy – Tech is No. 16 in the country in batting average, No. 13 in doubles, No. 17 in home runs and No. 29 in runs per game. A year ago, Tech was Nos. 170, 99, 54 and 87 in the same categories, respectively.
Shortstop Connor Justus has been phenomenal (.340, 456 on-base percentage, central in Tech’s nation-leading 71 double plays), outfielder Matt Gonzalez is enjoying a memorable senior season (.368, 47 RBI and outfielder Kel Johnson has improved on his strong freshman season (.340, 11 home runs, 51 RBI).
But Tech is No. 159 in ERA and No. 180 in WHIP. Tech can rely on ace Brandon Gold (2.55 ERA) and closer Matthew Gorst (0.49 ERA, .180 opponent batting average), and middle reliever Keyton Gibson has also been dependable (3.52 ERA), but the Jackets have been inconsistent past that.
That being the case, it doesn’t bode well for the Jackets should they make it into pool play and/or the NCAA tournament. Winning the ACC tournament will require Tech to play five games in six days. Winning an NCAA regional will take three wins in a weekend, and the Jackets will need to beat a top-16 seed in its own ballpark to make the super regional.
First things first. Tech will pitch Gold on Tuesday and try to re-recreate 2014.
“I don’t know about (if the experience helps), but I do think it’s a one-game playoff to try to get in the tournament, and that’s all we need to focus on and concern ourselves with,” Hall said.