NCAA Tourney opens Friday for Jackets, Justus
No more bubble talk for Georgia Tech baseball.
The 2016 Yellow Jackets, led by local product Connor Justus, head into the NCAA Tournament at the Gainesville, FL regional as the site’s No. 2 seed. Tech will face third-seeded Connecticut in their tournament opener, Friday at 1pm on ESPN3.
The four-team, double-elimination bracket, also includes regional and national top-seed Florida, along with No. 4 seed, Bethune-Cookman, an automatic qualifier out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Georgia Tech (36-23) won a play-in game over Boston College to make pool play last week at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, but then lost three straight games to nationally ranked Miami, Florida State, and N.C. State. Those losses, some feared, potentially put the Jackets’ NCAA Tournament bid at risk.
As it turned out, however, even Boston College joined the field of 64 teams that includes an NCAA record-tying 10 ACC teams.
In order for the Jackets to advance to a Super Regional, they will need top performances from their leading bats and top pitchers.
The offense sputtered in ACC Tournament pool play last week, so their is some pressure to get the bats that were 22nd in the nation in batting average and 21st in homeruns going again. The Jackets hit only .206 with four extra base hits in their three conference tournament pool games.
Meanwhile, the pitching limited their three ranked opponents to .231 hitting, but the staff did yield 11 extra base hits that included six home runs. The host Gators will be heavily favored to win the regional, but anything can happen at tournament time. It will be the fourth trip to an NCAA Regional hosted by Gainesville. Georgia Tech is 5-6 all-time in Gainesville Regionals, including a runner-up finish in 2012.
Georgia Tech junior starting pitcher, Brandon Gold, is 8-3 on the season in 15 starts with a 2.38 ERA. The Jackets will need a solid start from their ace and will rely on the shutdown capabilities of reliever Matthew Gorst who has appeared in 26 games and has accumulated 12 saves, 53 strikeouts, and carries a 0.41 ERA.
Former Cartersville Hurricanes standout, Connor Justus, is among the team leaders in hitting. He has started all 59 games for Georgia Tech at shortstop and led the team for much of the season in batting average. He continues to lead the team in runs scored with 58.
Justus, a Dick Howser Trophy semifinalist for top player in the nation, has a .332 average heading to the Gainesville Regional. He has hit six home runs and has 24 extra base hits with 36 RBIs. He also anchors a defense that leads the nation in double plays turned and sports a .950 fielding percentage in 278 defensive chances.
Matt Gonzalez and Trevor Craport have been big contributors for the Yellow Jackets’ offense as well. Gonzalez has a .370 batting average with 10 homers and 48 RBI in 55 starts, while Craport is hitting .346 with seven home runs and 30 RBI. Gonzalez is also the active NCAA leader in career hits. Kel Johnson, Tristin English, Brandt Stallings, and Wade Bailey all carry batting averages of .300+ into the NCAA Tournament.
The tournament gets underway Friday at 16 host sites across the nation.
FRIDAY FIRST ROUND SCHEDULE
ALL TIMES EASTERN
Georgia Tech vs. UConn, 1pm, ESPN3
Florida vs. Bethune-Cookman, 6 p.m., SEC Network
South Alabama vs. Southern Miss, noon, ESPN3
Florida State vs. Alabama State, 6 p.m., ESPN3
Coastal Carolina vs. St. Mary's, 2 p.m., ESPN3
N.C. State vs. Navy, 7 p.m., ESPN3
LSU vs. Utah Valley, 3 p.m., ESPN3
SE Louisiana vs. Rice, 8 p.m., ESPN3
Texas Tech vs. Fairfield, 3 p.m., ESPN3
New Mexico vs. Dallas Baptist, 7 p.m., ESPN3
Virginia vs. William and Mary, 1 p.m., ESPN3
East Carolina vs. Bryant, 6 p.m., ESPN3
Arizona State vs. Gonzaga, 3 p.m., ESPN3
TCU vs. Oral Roberts, 7:30 p.m., ESPN3
Minnesota vs. Wake Forest, 4 p.m., ESPN3
Texas A&M vs. Binghamton, 9 p.m., SEC Network
Wright State vs. Ohio State, 2 p.m., ESPN3
Louisville vs. Western Michigan, 6 p.m., ESPN3
Washington vs. UC Santa Barbara, 3 p.m., ESPN3
Vanderbilt vs. Xavier, 8 p.m, ESPN3
Duke vs. UNC-Wilmington, 1 p.m., ESPN3
South Carolina vs. Rhode Island, 7 p.m., ESPN3
Nebraska vs. Oklahoma State, noon, ESPNU
Clemson vs. Western Carolina, 7 p.m., ESPN3
Mississippi State vs. Southeast Missouri State, 2:30 p.m., ESPN3
Louisiana Tech vs. Cal State Fullerton, 7:30 p.m., ESPN3
Arizona vs. Sam Houston State, 2 p.m., ESPN3
UL Lafayette vs. Princeton, 8 p.m., ESPN3
Tulane vs. Boston College, 4 p.m., ESPN3
Ole Miss vs. Utah, 8 p.m, ESPN3
FAU vs. Long Beach State, 1 p.m., ESPN3
Miami vs. Stetson, 7 p.m., ESPN3