ATLANTA If Georgia Tech should rally for an ACC Coastal Division title, conference tournament championship, or even a sustained run in the NCAA tournament in the coming weeks, some might look to The Throw as the turning point for such wonder.
The same throw that, in hindsight, missed its intended mark.
In the seventh inning of a crucial series opener against No. 5 Virginia on Friday, and with the Yellow Jackets holding a tenuous 2-1 lead, Georgia Tech outfielder Kyle Wren the same Wren who's batting at nearly a .400 clip pulled off his personal play of the year, nailing the potential tying run at home plate, thanks to a no-bounce, letter-perfect toss from left field.
Upon receiving the bouncing single off the bat of Virginia hitter Nick Howard, Wren had little time to spare to preserve Tech's lead and Buck Farmer's pitching gem (complete game, one run allowed, 10 strikeouts). But the throw was so accurate, so impressive that no one wearing an orange jersey (UVa) could find fault with the call. Despite the chest-high tag.
"Well, you know he overthrew the cutoff man, and we said, 'OK, that's the one time we're going to let you do that,'" said Yellow Jackets coach Danny Hall in his postgame address, half-joking. "But he got the guy out. It was a good throw and certainly one that we needed."
As such, Georgia Tech (25-9, 10-6 in ACC action) remains in the thick of the Coastal race, trailing only top-ranked North Carolina (32-2, 13-2) and Virginia (30-5, 12-4) with 22 games left in the regular season. If the conference tourney started today, the Yellow Jackets would be a wild-card qualifer.
"It seems like every time we play these guys, it's a one- or two-run game," lamented Hall, in his 20th season of running the Tech program. "(Farmer) had an oustanding game ... his teammates made a lot of great plays behind him, and then we got a big, two-out hit from Zane Evans."
With the score knotted at 1 in the sixth inning, and Virginia starting pitcher Brandon Waddell seemingly cruising through the Georgia Tech lineup, Evans laced an RBI single that, at the the time, didn't feel like the game-winning blow. After all, seven total batters (four Cavaliers, three Jackets) would end the night with two or more hits.
But for Georgia Tech, timely defense was the ultimate key to victory. In the eighth inning, the catcher Evans squashed a stolen-base attempt at second base. And in the ninth, with Virginia threatening to tie the game, a sharply hit ball to first baseman A.J. Murray resulted in a 3-6 double play, with tag although TV replays would reveal a missed call by the umps at second base.
That double play was crucial for two reasons: It forced the Wahoos to rekindle a ninth-inning rally from scratch; and it enabled Hall to let Farmer go the distance, despite surrendering 10 scattered hits.
"We were going to ride Buck as long as we could," said Hall, who originally planned to warm Evans up in the bullpen in the seventh, but his turn at bat thwarted that strategy.
For the year, Farmer has a 7-1 record and absurdly low ERA of 1.43; but on this night, he owes a great deal of his statistical success to the Jackets' defense starting with Wren's incredible assist.
Asked if that was the biggest throw of his college career, Wren quickly replied, "Yes, definitely."
And when asked if Friday's outing was the most complete of his time at Georgia Tech, Wren paused for a second before quipping, "Yeah, I think so. I scored a couple of runs, made the throw, got some hits. I feel like I really contributed out there."
Understatement aside, the Georgia Tech players and coaches reveled in the big-game atmosphere of the series opener, which attracted a crowd of 1,621 to Russ Chandler Stadium. The national cable audience also got a sense of how much is riding on this three-game set with Virginia, one of the favorites to reach the College World Series in June.
There were plenty of close calls throughout the game, drawing the ire of both sides. Oddly, the only bang-bang call that wasn't heavily disputed Wren's heroic throw commanded the lion's share of attention in the end.