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Georgia Tech stays unbeaten in Atlanta regional
Buford grad Burnette blasts long home run in second inning
Georgia Tech's Chase Burnette, a Buford High graduate, is congratulated after his second inning home run against Alabama on Saturday at Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets won 5-2. - photo by JOHN AMIS

ATLANTA — Deck McGuire hadn't pitched in nine days, so rest wasn't a problem.

Georgia Tech's ace just wanted to avoid making mistakes against Alabama.

"They are a great hitting club, and they put the ball in play about as much as any team we have faced all year," he said. "They fouled off some pitches late in the count and found a way to put some tough ones in play."

McGuire pitched eight strong innings, Jacob Esch had three RBIs and Tony Plagman drove in the go-ahead run to help Georgia Tech beat Alabama 5-2 on Saturday night and advance to the Atlanta regional title game.

Georgia Tech (47-13) likely will play for a chance to host a super regional next week when it faces the Alabama-Mercer winner Sunday night. The Yellow Jackets, seeded No. 8 in the NCAA tournament, have won two straight and three of four.

Alabama (38-23) has lost two of three after playing its way into an at-large bid with an eight-game winning streak that ended in the Southeastern Conference title game.

The Crimson Tide will play Mercer in the 3 p.m. losers' bracket game Sunday.

McGuire (9-4) allowed eight hits, two runs, two walks and struck out six. The right-handed ace is projected as a high pick in the upcoming baseball draft, but because of several off days in the schedule, he hadn't pitched since losing to Boston College May 27.

But the 6-foot-6, 218-pound junior nearly lasted as long as teammate Mark Pope, who pitched a shutout the night before against Mercer.

Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall didn't intend for him to pitch the ninth, but McGuire was surprised he was sent out to begin the eighth.

"This was actually one time I didn't have to talk him into it," McGuire said. "He had to talk me into it. I felt great and I had a couple of extra days' rest, so I knew I actually had more left in the tank than I thought I did."

The only big mistake McGuire made was a pitch in the fifth that Josh Rutledge hit for his 10th homer and a 2-2 tie.

"He was throwing his fastball probably mid-90s (mph) and he was just spotting it up real well," Rutledge said. "He threw 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."

Plagman followed in the bottom half of the fifth by putting the Jackets ahead 3-2 with a fielder's choice RBI.

Esch, whose RBI single in the fourth put Georgia Tech ahead 2-0, drove in two runs with a single to center in the sixth to chase Jimmy Nelson (8-3).

After winning his last three starts — all complete games — and posting a 1.67 ERA over a 27-inning span, Nelson lacked run support and steady fielding as Rutledge, Taylor Dugas and right fielder Andrew Miller committed errors.

Nelson put the onus on himself.

"Some guys behind me really picked me up, and I feel bad I couldn't do the same for them in that tight situation there in the sixth," Nelson said. "But I know this team will come back and compete hard every game."

The Yellow Jackets led 1-0 in the second on Chase Burnette's 16th homer, but Georgia Tech suffered from spotty baserunning.

In the fourth, Burnette was caught stealing and Jay Dantzler was thrown out 8-5 trying to advance from first on an RBI single by Esch that gave the Jackets a 2-0 lead.

In the sixth, with Cole Leonidas on third and Burnette on second, Tide right fielder Andrew Miller appeared to rob Thomas Nichols of a three-run homer by pulling the ball back from over the top of the fence.

Leonidas was thrown out 9-6-2, but Esch bailed out the Jackets with a hard two-run single to center field.

"Esch picked us up and had a key two-out," Hall said. "Many times in postseason play it's often the guy you least expect to do damage who goes up there and gets a big hit."

Burnette, Thomas Nichols and Esch, the sixth, eighth and ninth hitters in Georgia Tech's lineup, were a combined 7 for 10 with four runs scored.

Andrew Robinson pitched the ninth, allowing one hit with one strikeout, for his eighth save.

Rutledge finished 3 for 5 for Alabama. Jon Kelton and Brett Booth were a combined 4 for 7.

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