Spectators in Athens, GA tonight might very well be privy to the best first day matchup in the entire NCAA Tournament, as last year's Cinderella and the suddenly red hot Big East champions from Louisville take on perennial powerhouse and the hardest hitting team out of the country's best conference in Georgia Tech.
Winning the first game is crucial in any Regional, but it's especially important when you're playing in a four-team tournament where three of the teams have been to the College World Series in the last two seasons. Top seed Georgia and the two teams taking part in the late game have all been nationally ranked this season, and all have had various prognosticators predicting deep runs at some point over the course of the last week.
The biggest game within the game tonight will be the powerful Yellow Jacket offense against Cardinal ace Justin Marks. Tech has swatted a whopping 90 home runs this season, good for tenth in the country, but opposing hitters have taken Marks deep just three times in 307 at-bats. Also working in the sophomore left-hander's favor is the fact that GT head coach Danny Hall generally starts five lefty hitters.
If another memorable run is on the horizon, it starts tonight.
2) GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS (39-19) vs. 3) LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (41-19)
Game Time: (Approximately) 7 p.m.
Site: Foley Field: Athens, GA
Radio: 145O AM/CSTV Online Streaming
All-Time Series: Louisville leads 2-0 (The Cards beat the Yellow Jackets in the Metro Tournament in both 1976 and 1977)
Probable Starting Lineups
1. Charlie Blackmon (RF), .391
2. Jeff Rowland (CF), .345
3. Luke Murton (DH), .349
4. Derek Dietrich (SS), .333
5. Tony Plagman (1B), .320
6. Brad Feltes (3B), .290
7. Chris House (LF), .252
8. Patrick Long (2B), .274
9. Jason Haniger (C), .317
1. John Dao (SS), .353
2. Josh Richmond (LF), .288
3. Justin McClanahan (2B), .369
4. Chris Dominguez (3B), .369
5. Stewart Ijames (RF), .346
6. Jeff Arnold (C), .324
7. Andrew Clark (1B), .326
8. Derrick Alfonso (DH), .258
9. Drew Haynes (CF), .291
Despite allowing ten earned runs in his last outing, junior David Duncan (7-3, 4.47 ERA) will get the nod on the mound. The towering 6-8 left-hander is a second team All-ACC honoree who has tremendous command of his stuff, striking out 73 and walking just 31 over 90 2/3 innings of work. Before getting shelled by Miami in the ACC Tournament, he had allowed just one earned run in three of his last four starts.
Though he hasn't - to my knowledge - said anything publicly, Dan McDonnell will almost certainly hand the ball to sophomore ace Justin Marks (9-1, 2.21 ERA). Marks has been spectacular down the stretch, going 6-0 with a 1.89 ERA in his last seven starts. He was sensational in the postseason a year ago, picking up wins over Missouri in the Regional title game and Mississippi State in the College World Series, and allowing just one hit over 6 2/3 innings against Oklahoma State in the Super Regionals.
NOTABLE AND QUOTABLE
--This is the 24th NCAA Tournament appearance for Georgia Tech, and just the third for Louisville. The Yellow Jackets are 50-42 all-time in the big dance, while the Cards are 7-6.
--Louisville's 2007 run to the College World Series began with a victory over another ACC foe, Miami.
--Tech will take the field dealing with a bit of extra adversity tonight, as it was revealed this afternoon that pitcher Michael Hutts - who passed away on April 11 - died of a heroin overdose.
--Georgia Tech enters tonight ranked 7th in the RPI. The Jackets were the only team ranked in the top 14 to not be awarded a No. 1 seed.
--Of the four teams in the Regional, Louisville comes in with the best team batting average (.313), team ERA (4.22), the most runs scored (436), the least number of strikeouts (355) and the most stolen bases (84).
--Georgia Tech is 34-2 this season when it holds opponents to six runs or less, but just 5-17 when opponents plate at least seven.
--"We're really not talking about the College World Series or going to Omaha. It's so hard to get there. We're just preparing to play good baseball." --Dan McDonnell
--"Just looking around, it looks like we have a real tough Regional. But as a player, that can only excite you." --Georgia Tech DH Luke Murton
--"This is a tremendous regional. You look at this regional, you have got the SEC champion, you have got the Big East champion and you have got the Atlantic Sun champions. You have got three champions. We are the only one who didn't win something." --Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall
--"If it wasn't for LSU everybody would be talking about how well Louisville is playing right now. They haven't lost many games." --Danny Hall
--"We went 26-5 over our last 31 games so we’re playing well, and any time you have a chance for post season experience is a plus. We respect our opponents and just preparing to play good baseball." --Dan McDonnell
What Happens Next
The winner of tonight's game will face the winner of today's Georgia/Lipscomb game tomorrow at 7 p.m., while the loser will face the loser of the same contest at 3 p.m. tomorrow in an elimination game.
Tech looks to use its power (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Athens Regional: Four Teams, One Dream (Online Athens)
Athens Regional Preview (Baseball America)
Game Notes (Georgia Tech)
Fourth meeting likely for Dogs, Yellow Jackets (Macon Telegraph)
Tech, Georgia will have to fight it out to advance (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
CC Prediction: Louisville 7, Georgia Tech 5
It's very hard to pick against Mr. Marks at this point.