Georgia Tech tops Duke 5-4, to face NC State in semifinals

Georgia Tech’s Tristin English (11) celebrates with teammates after a walk-off RBI-double in the ninth inning to give the Yellowjackets a 5-4 victory over Duke on Friday, May 24, 2019 at the ACC Baseball Championship at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C. Georgia Tech advances to play N.C. State in the semi-finals. Robert Willett

Tristin English has had some big hits for Georgia Tech in his career, being named first-team All-ACC three times.

But getting the game-winning hit and being the winning pitcher in the same game? That was a first for him in college.

English was too tough for Duke on Friday in the ACC Baseball Championship. The junior first baseman slammed a two-run homer in the first inning, pitched the final two innings in relief and then had the Yellow Jackets celebrating after his double off the left-field wall in the bottom of the ninth for a walkoff 5-4 victory.

The win propelled the Yellow Jackets (40-16), seeded second in the ACC tournament, into a semifinal matchup Saturday against N.C. State. The third-seeded Wolfpack used its own ninth-inning rally to edge Wake Forest 6-5 on Thursday, taking away any importance from the Pack’s game Friday against Florida State.

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It was a rough ending for the Blue Devils (31-25), seeded seventh, but Duke hopes to be included in the NCAA tournament field again.

In the Georgia Tech ninth, Luke Waddell drew a leadoff walk from Duke reliever Thomas Girard and was sacrificed to second. The Blue Devils intentionally walked Kyle McCann, who had ripped a two-run homer in the third, but English delivered the big hit high off the towering left-field wall.

“It’s a short porch out in left and my approach was to hit the ball in the air out there, at least give it a chance,” English said. “I was hoping it would at least be far enough to hit the wall.”

Duke coach Chris Pollard said he first believed it wouldn’t be far enough, that left fielder Kyle Gallagher would make the catch.

“The ball was coming straight down,” Pollard said. “When it left the bat I said ‘good job” because I thought it was an ‘F-7,’” Pollard said. “I thought that ball would land about the edge of the warning track.”

But with the wind swirling, the high fly came down off the wall and Waddell sprinted home as Gallagher chased after the ball.

The wind also affected English’s first-inning homer, a high liner down the left-field line.

“It was hooking foul, and it got up in the wind and really switched directions in mid-air, went back to the right and stayed inside the foul pole,” he said of his 16th homer of the season.

McCann’s 23rd of the season was a no-doubter. The junior catcher, another first-team All-ACC pick, blasted a two-out, two-strike bomb to right field that might have dented a brick in the office building behind the stands.

Those were the two big mistakes made by Duke starter Ben Gross, who pitched the first five innings before Matt Dockman and Girard relieved.

The Blue Devils, who were 15-15 in the ACC this season, touched Georgia Tech starter Connor Thomas for three runs in the first. Kennie Taylor beat out an infield hit and later scored on Michael Rothenberg’s single to left. Chris Crabtree’s single to right drove in two runs before Thomas, a junior left-hander and All-ACC choice, escaped the inning with a double play.

“We felt pretty confident coming in,” Taylor said. “The last time we played them we hit (Thomas) well.”

Taylor, the Blue Devils’ first-team All-ACC selection, saved a run in the seventh with a diving catch in shallow center with two runners on and two outs.

English, from Williamson, Ga., made his 14th pitching appearance of the season. He faced six batters Friday, striking out three for his third win of the season.

The Yellow Jackets, who hope to be among the eight national seeds in the NCAA tournament, did not play the Wolfpack this season. The semifinal game is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

English said the Yellow Jackets came to Durham hoping to “make a statement.” He made his own Friday.

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