Tech rallies late to top Georgia

Georgia Tech's Tony Plagman (21) swings at a pitch during the Yellow Jackets' game against Georgia on Tuesday. Plagman hit a two-run homer early in the game to give the Yellow Jackets the lead.

Georgia Tech's Tony Plagman (21) swings at a pitch during the Yellow Jackets' game against Georgia on Tuesday. Plagman hit a two-run homer early in the game to give the Yellow Jackets the lead.

ATLANTA -- This year's first round of the Georgia-Georgia Tech baseball rivalry was more like two different games in one, with the host Yellow Jackets dominating the first and the visiting Bulldogs getting the upper hand for most of the second.

But Tech recovered from letting a four-run lead slip away to score single runs in the seventh and eighth innings -- the latter on a bases-loaded walk by Jacob Esch -- to come away with a 6-5 victory Tuesday night before 2,856 fans at Russ Chandler Stadium.

"This is part of what we call our state tournament, and we want to come out ahead in our state tournament," said Tech first baseman and Wesleyan grad Tony Plagman, who blasted a two-run home run in the first inning as the third-ranked Jackets improved to 14-1. "We play these guys three times. We've already beaten Georgia Southern twice and we still have games with three other state teams (Georgia State, Kennesaw State and Mercer)."

And Tech made a quick statement in the first inning of Tuesday's game.

First, pitcher Mark Pope struck out the side in the top half on just 14 pitches.

Then Jeff Rowland led off the bottom of the inning by lining a solo home run to right to put Tech in front 1-0.

Plagman then followed Esch's walk with a majestic two-run homer to right-center.

It was the 6-foot-2, 217-pound senior's seventh homer of the season and the 41st of his Tech career -- tying him for eighth on the school's all-time list -- and pushed the Jackets' lead to 3-0.

Jay Dantzler then added a solo home run in the bottom of the second to make the score 4-0, and it looked like it might be enough as Pope cruised through the first five innings, facing just two hitters over the minimum and sitting down 12 straight at one point.

But Georgia's bats finally began to wake up in the sixth, and Zach Cone was in the middle of the rally.

The Parkview grad followed Levi Hymes' leadoff bunt single by rifling a grounder just inside the third base bag that rattled past Dantzler in left for a triple that brought home Hymes and pulled the Bulldogs (8-9) to within 4-1.

Plagman managed to hold Cone at third on Johnathan Taylor's grounder to first, but a blooper by Peter Verdin fell just out of the reach of a diving Esch at second and brought the sophomore centerfielder home to cut Tech's lead to 4-2.

Georgia then put runners on first and third with two outs in the inning, but Pope bore down and struck out Coby May -- his career-high ninth of the game -- to escape further damage.

But the sophomore right-hander faced more trouble in the top of the seventh when he hit Zach Taylor and Todd Hankins reached on what should have been a pop out behind the second base bag but fell in for a hit when neither Esch nor Derek Dietrich fielded the ball.

After Pope managed to get a force at third on Hymes' sacrifice attempt, Cone made Tech pay for the defensive miscue by rifling his second triple in as many at bats to driving in two runs and tie the game 4-4.

"The first (triple) was good," said Cone, who was 2-for-5 with three RBIs on the night. "But the second one brought a pitching change, and I was high-fiving everyone trying to get everyone up."

Cone's efforts worked, driving Pope from the game and giving the Bulldogs momentum.

After Jake Davies struck out Taylor for the second out of the inning, Patrick Long came in and Verdin greeted his first pitch with a double into the left-field corner to give Georgia its first lead of the game at 5-4.

But Tech rallied with some clutch at bats in the next two innings.

First, Cole Leonida delivered a two-out, RBI single to center in the seventh to tie the game at 5-5.

One inning later, the Jackets loaded the bases with nobody out, but looked like they might squander the opportunity when Alex McCree (0-1) struck out pinch hitter Jason Garofalo and Rowland, both on pitches out of the strike zone.

That did not escape Esch's attention.

"My approach was, I was taking until (McCree) threw me a strike," said Esch, who finished the game 2-for-3 with a pair of walks. "Even if it had gotten to 3-and-1, I was thinking about taking until it was 3-and-2."

But it never got to that point as McCree missed with all four pitches, bringing home Derek Dietrich with what turned out to be the winning run.

Andrew Robinson (2-0) then set down Cone, Taylor and Verdin -- the latter two on strikeouts -- in order in the ninth to preserve the victory for Tech.

Three other Gwinnett grads besides Plagman and Cone got into Tuesdsay's game. Buford's Chase Burnett went 0-for-3 with a walk for Tech, while Parkview's Steve Esmonde threw a scoreless inning for Georgia and Collins Hill's Justin Earls threw 22/3 innings for the Bulldogs, giving up two hits and a run and striking out two.