Sometimes all it takes is a single base hit.
The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Maryland Terrapins were locked in a back-and-forth struggle for the ACC championship Sunday that featured lead changes, ties and blown rallies throughout the first seven innings.
However, Connor Justus broke the game open in the top of the eighth inning with a timely two-run single to stretch the Yellow Jackets' precarious one-run lead to 7-4. From there, Georgia Tech's bullpen shut the door and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in the process with a 9-4 victory.
This ACC championship game was of particular interest because it was the highest combined seed total in the final contest in the history of the event (15). Despite the fact that neither Georgia Tech or Maryland earned top seeds during the regular season, the winner grabbed the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
What’s more, it was the first time Maryland was in the championship game for 38 years, while Georgia Tech (No. 9) was the worst seed to ever compete for the ACC title.
There was even a bat dog, as ESPN Highlights noted:
Lou-Lou the bat dog has been responsible for retrieving bats during the ACC baseball championship. http://t.co/Bdq3xseNJ7— ESPN Highlights (@HighlightsESPN) May 25, 2014
Maryland played particularly well during the month of May and entered Sunday’s game with wins in 11 of its last 12, but it actually lost to North Carolina Saturday during pool play. Still, head coach John Szefc didn’t seem too fazed, via theACC.com: “Even though the result wasn’t what we were looking for, I feel like we were absolutely prepared to go into tomorrow.”
The Terps didn’t look particularly ready when the game started.
Georgia Tech wasted little time getting on the board with a run in the top of the first thanks to Thomas Smith’s screaming line drive off the wall that brought the runner in from first. The Yellow Jackets tacked on another in the top of first to take a 2-0 lead and grabbed critical early momentum.
Maryland cut into the deficit with a solo home run from Blake Schmit. It was actually his first of the season.
Georgia Tech stretched the lead to 3-1 in the fourth inning, but a huge moment in the game occurred in the bottom of the fourth inning with Maryland down 3-2 and the bases loaded and two outs. ACC Baseball set the scene:
Matthew Grimes came in for the Yellow Jackets though and coaxed a critical ground out from leadoff hitter Charlie White.
The Yellow Jackets were not as fortunate in the bottom of the sixth inning, as Maryland once again loaded the bases, only this time around it was with nobody out. The Terps pushed across a run to tie the game with a single, but a critical double play limited the damage to only one more. Georgia Tech baseball pointed out why it was a historical play:
Still, Maryland took a 4-3 lead into the final three innings.
Georgia Tech threatened in the top of the seventh with a lead off double and bunt. Brandon Gold was a mere 90 feet away as the tying run with the ACC title in the balance.
Maryland responded by bringing the closer Kevin Mooney in even though it was the seventh inning. Clearly, this was an all-hands-on-deck situation. Mitch Earnest of the Yellow Jackets wasn't fazed though and tied the game up with a critical sacrifice fly.
How far will Georgia Tech advance in the NCAA tournament?
Georgia Tech answered almost immediately. In the top of the eighth, Daniel Spignola led off with a double (it was the third straight inning the Yellow Jackets led off an inning in that fashion) and Matt Gonzalez tried to bunt him over. Instead, Maryland pitcher Mooney lost his balance and air mailed the throw to first base.
Just like that it was 5-4 Georgia Tech.
Justus battled to a full count, and on the ninth pitch of the at bat drilled a single up the middle. Two runs scored, and it seemed as if the back-and-forth affair was headed in Georgia Tech's direction as it took a 7-4 lead.
The floodgates opened in the top of the ninth, as the Yellow Jackets tacked on another two runs to stretch the lead to 9-4. There was a bit of drama in the last half of the ninth when the Terps put the first two guys on base, but Georgia Tech got yet another double play to snuff out the rally.
The Yellow Jackets prevailed 9-4.
Georgia Tech can rest easy during the NCAA tournament selection show because it earned the ACC's automatic bid with its victory Sunday.
Does Maryland deserve to make the NCAA tournament?
The momentum that comes with a conference title will certainly help the Yellow Jackets as they strive for a spot in the College World Series.
However, the Terrapins will be sweating it out. Making it all the way to the ACC title game will certainly help their case, as will the hot finish to the regular season during the month of May.
Bigger picture, the Maryland program will head to the Big Ten next season. Leaving the ACC with a championship game loss certainly wasn't the way the Terps wanted to head out, but it was an impressive season nonetheless.
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