This may not ease the pain of Georgia’s pronounced tumble down from No. 1 in the football rankings last year, or Tech’s season-ending face plant against LSU, or certainly anything involving most recent college basketball seasons in the state of Georgia.
But have you noticed? College baseball rules!
No. Most weren’t brought up in the state dreaming of the sound of “ping.” But it’s about the sweetest thing you’re going to hear or see right now on a state campus.
Four schools – Georgia Tech, Georgia, Georgia State and Georgia Southern – are in the NCAA’s field of baseball 64.
That is exactly four more than were in the NCAA’s last field of basketball 64.
Just spoke a little while ago to Tech coach Danny Hall. He was relaxing watching the Elon-Southern Miss game before the Yellow Jackets take on sudden cross-town rival State later tonight. When I asked him why college baseball is doing so well in the state, I was surprised by the answer.
“The Braves,” he said.
Interesting. So the Braves can help Georgia State but they can’t help the Braves?
Hall clarified: “It’s the dynasty that the Braves had for so long. You think back to when that all started [in 1991]. All of their games were televised, so you could watch them not only if you were living in the Southeast, even if you were living in Ohio. The exposure to the Atlanta Braves and how good they were for so long got a lot of people, particularly in our state, interested in baseball.”
Hall pointed to other factors – the level of high school baseball, the elevation of summer programs following the lead of East Cobb in Marietta, the growth of Atlanta – but he added: “I just think it creates a lot of interest when the local pro team is doing that well.”
Georgia Tech’s Matt Skole hit his first career grand slam in the fifth inning and the Yellow Jackets went on to a 9-3 win over Georgia State in their regional opener Friday night. Tech will play Southern Miss Saturday.
Skole’s slam gave the Jackets a 6-3 lead. The Panthers led 3-1 until the fifth, when Tech loaded the bases against pitcher Will Palmer. Tony Plagman then drew a walk to close the score to 3-2. Palmer struck out Jason Haniger but Skole drove a 1-1 pitch over the right field wall.
The Jackets pushed across another run in the sixth inning on an RBI single by Jeff Rowland.
A two-run single by Luke Murton in the eighth opened the lead to 9-3.
The Panthers, playing in their first NCAA post-season game, scored three times in the second off Tech starter Deck McGuire to take a 3-1 lead. The Jackets scored an unearned run in the first inning. State answered in the second with a solo home run by Bradley Logan — he has homered in five straight games — and then added two more on three singles, an error and a fielder’s choice.
Georgia State left fielder Michael McCree also has the early defensive play of the regional with a diving catch off a drive by Tech’s Luke Murton.
Russ Chandler Stadium looks to be sold out, with some fans standing.
Earlier, a Tech spokesperson said tonight’s game might be close to a sellout. A big reason is presence of State, which sold its original allotment of 200 tickets and asked for 400 more. This is the Panthers’ first NCAA regional.
Tech officials originally thought the NCAA might seed all four state teams in this regional, but Georgia was given a No. 2 seed in Tallahassee and Southern also received a second see at Cal State Fullerton. On the potential of an all-Georgia regional, Cheryl Watts of the Tech sports information department said: “We were thinking, ‘If that happens, at least we know it’ll sell out. But it would be a loaded regional.’”
Georgia State president Mark Becker and Georgia Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson are sitting together at the game. “Got here just in time for the first pitch,” Peterson told our Doug Roberson. “It’s fabulous to see the crowds. We’re just having a good time.” The two said they do not have a wager on the game.
When asked what would make it a perfect evening, Becker said: “It’s already a perfect evening, to see Bradley Logan continue his perfect hitting.”
There were 30 dozen baseballs provided for the three-day tournament. The problem? Elon and Southern Miss went through eight dozen in game one, won by Southern Miss, 17-15. The teams combined for 11 home runs and 34 hits.