COLUMBUS, Ohio — Never underestimate the power of a feel-good homecoming.
On Tuesday night, the Georgia Tech baseball team launched its most crucial week of the season by rolling over Ohio State, 9-2.
As a bonus, the Yellow Jackets also extended a personal gift to head coach and Ohio native Danny Hall, who collected his first victory inside the Buckeye State since leading Kent State to the NCAA regionals in 1993.
“This was a special game for me, just because I grew up here. Parents, my sister, I went to Miami of Ohio, a lot of friends here,” said Hall, a onetime draft pick of the Oakland Athletics (1973) and Kent State’s head coach from 1988-93. “Probably more than anything, it’s a chance to coach in front of people who have meant a lot to me over the years.”
The win had program significance, as well, marking Georgia Tech’s first-ever trip to Ohio — an illustrious history that dates back to 1900 and includes 26 NCAA tourney berths since 1985 alone.
“(Wins like this) are major RPI games,” said Hall, in his 20th season with Georgia Tech.
Throughout the evening, the press box at Bill Davis Stadium (and Nick Swisher Field) was awash with Columbus-based writers, many coming away impressed with Georgia Tech — which accounted for nine runs and 14 hits … and six shutout innings from Jackets starter Jonathan King.
There were also queries like: How did this team lose eight of 10 games, prior to Tuesday?
One theory: Perhaps Georgia Tech (30-18 overall) needed a simple change of venue to recapture its mojo from March and early April, when the club was ranked high nationally and seemingly cruising toward an NCAA tourney bid.
“(King) pitched very well. He’s been very good for us; by far, this was his best performance,” beamed Hall. “He threw a lot of strikes. … We gave him some runs early, which helped him relax a little.”
The Jackets opened with a flurry in the first inning, scoring two runs off Buckeyes starter Jake Post, thanks to one hit (an RBI double from Zane Evans), one steal (Brandon Thomas) and two hits batsmen (Thomas, Daniel Palka). On Evans’ double — a hot shot off the center-field wall — Palka nearly ran past Thomas when approaching third base, before slowing down just enough to let Thomas sprint to home plate, unfettered.
Georgia Tech busted out again three innings later, highlighted by catcher Mitch Earnest’s RBI single and Palka’s three-run triple. Throw in a Thomas RBI single (7th inning), a Sam Dove solo homer and Earnest RBI double in the ninth … and you have the offensive components to a decisive victory.
It’s worth noting that of Palka’s 10 most recent hits — including seven extra-base hits — he has accounted for 14 RBI. It’s also worth mentioning that Georgia Tech is only one-fifth through its weekly gauntlet of Ohio State (32-15, currently fourth in the Big Ten) and North Carolina, the nation’s No. 1 team at 43-4.
The UNC series (Friday/Saturday/Sunday in Atlanta) could go a long way toward securing the Jackets a berth in the ACC tournament (May 22-26), for which Georgia Tech stands as the defending champions.