June 5, 2010

ATLANTA - Georgia Tech starter Deck McGuire allowed just two runs in eight innings and Chase Burnett collected three hits, including a record-tying home run, leading the Yellow Jackets past Alabama 5-2 Saturday night in the winner's bracket game of the NCAA Baseball Atlanta Regional.

A capacity crowd of 4,167 packed into Russ Chandler Stadium to watch McGuire (9-4) pitch against Alabama's Jimmy Nelson (8-3) in a battle of two of the top aces in the Southeast. Tech's Andrew Robinson pitched the ninth inning to record his eighth save.

"This was a really good college baseball game," said Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall. "I told my guys after the game that it was probably the best game that we have played all year long - pitching, hitting, defense.

"Deck (McGuire) was outstanding. We have had two great starting pitching performances, and then (Andrew) Robinson came in and got three outs in the ninth."

Alabama (38-23), the No. 2 seed in the regional, will play Mercer Sunday at 3 p.m. in an elimination game. The Crimson Tide need a win over the Bears for the second time in three days to force a re-match with Georgia Tech (47-13) Sunday at 7 p.m. A Yellow Jacket victory Sunday would send them to the next round, the Super Regionals, against the winner of the Auburn (Ala.) Regional. A Tech loss Sunday night would force a seventh game Monday at 7 p.m.

McGuire, a likely first-round pick in Monday's Major League Baseball draft, was masterful in pitching out of jams and seemingly gained strength in the later innings. McGuire struck out six, walked just two and allowed eight base hits.

"He was throwing a fastball, probably in the low 90s, and he was just spotting it up real well," said Alabama shortstop Josh Rutledge, who had three of the Crimson Tide's nine hits including a home run. "He threw the left-handers a lot of change-ups and the right-handers more curveballs. He was just having good control all night, so it was tough to hit him."

Burnett, who collected three of Tech's 11 base hits, gave Georgia Tech an early 1-0 lead with a solo home run over the right-field wall in the second inning. The home run, Burnett's 16th of the season, gave the Yellow Jackets a school record-tying 119 homers in 2010.

Alabama put a runner in scoring position in each of the first three innings, but each time McGuire was able to pitch out of trouble. In the second inning, the Crimson Tide had runners on the corners when Jon Kelton walked and later went to third on a Brett Booth single. But McGuire got Brock Bennett to pop up to end the threat. In the third, Alabama's Rutledge singled and stole second, but was stranded when Clay Jones struck out looking.

Georgia Tech went up 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth when Thomas Nichols was issued a two-out walk. Nichols moved to third on a Jeff Dantzler single and scored on a single by Jacob Esch.

Alabama knotted the score 2-2 in the top of the fifth thanks to a two-run home run by Rutledge - his third base hit of the game. Booth began the inning with a single and two outs later Rutledge pasted a McGuire pitch over the right-field wall.

On a night when Georgia Tech tied its single-season home run record, the Yellow Jackets used small-ball to break a 2-2 tie and take the lead for good in the fifth inning. Jeff Rowland singled up the middle, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Tony Plagman ground ball.

McGuire pitched out of another jam in the top of the sixth. Kelton singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a ground ball. With two outs and Kelton on third, Esch, the Jackets' second baseman, made a nifty stop and throw on a ball off the bat of Bennett to end the threat.

Tech catcher Cole Leonida led off the bottom half of the sixth with a single. Burnett followed with a single to right, which was mishandled by Alabama right-fielder Andrew Miller, allowing Leonida to advance to third and Burnett to second with no one out.

That's when the sixth inning got a little wacky.

Nichols hit a shot off the right-field wall, nearly leaving the yard but also nearly caught by Miller, who got a glove on the ball. Leonida was slow to tag a third base and was thrown out at the plate. When Dantzler grounded out, Tech had runners at third (Burnett) and second (Nichols), but two outs and it appeared that Nelson was going to pitch out of a major league jam. However, Esch singled to center to score two and give the Jackets a 5-2 advantage.

"On the play (Nichols' single off the wall), we had guys on second and third and Nichols hit the ball," Hall said. "Cole (Leonida) said he saw it hit the fence and he was tagging. He saw it hit the fence and he took off for home plate. Then he saw it go up in the air again and saw (Miller) catch it. He thought he had to go back and tag because he thought the guy ended up catching the ball. It is one of those things that happen. Jake Esch picked up a big hit and knocked both of those guys in."

Alabama brought in Taylor Wolfe from the bullpen to relieve Nelson and got Rowland to fly out for the final out of the sixth.

McGuire seemed to get stronger in the later innings. He retired seven straight batters until Kelton hit a two-out bloop single in the top of the eighth. After enticing Miller to hit a weak ground ball to end the inning with a fielder's choice, Tech held on to a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth.

Robinson came in to close the game for Tech in the ninth. He struck out Booth, then forced Bennett into a ground-out. After a Taylor Dugas single, Rutledge flied out for the final out of the night.

Saturday's game marked just the fourth meeting between Tech and Alabama since the Yellow Jackets left the Southeastern Conference in 1963. The two teams met in Atlanta for the first time in 53 years.

The Georgia Tech-Alabama game was one of the ACC vs. SEC winner's bracket games on Saturday along with Virginia-Mississippi and Clemson-Auburn.