OXFORD, Miss. --- Jacksonville State came agonizingly close to its first Division I NCAA baseball tournament victory Sunday.
And agonizingly far from it.
Georgia Tech’s three-run rally in the top of the ninth inning broke a tie game, and JSU got just one run despite loading the bases with no outs in the bottom. Throw in crucial base-running errors, and the Gamecocks suffered elimination in the NCAA Oxford (Miss.) Regional, 4-2.
So ended a season that JSU extended by winning an Ohio Valley Conference-record six games in a row in the league tournament to claim an automatic NCAA bid. The Gamecocks finished 36-27.
“Some days they’ll fall, and some days they won’t,” designated hitter Paschal Petrongolo said. “This is just one of the days that it didn’t.
“We hit balls hard. We stayed in the counts. We had good at bats. It just didn’t work out for us today. It happens.”
Georgia Tech (37-26) moved on to play a 7 p.m. elimination game against the loser between host Ole Miss and Washington. The Gamecocks lost 12-2 to Ole Miss on Saturday to fall into the elimination bracket.
“I’m real proud of our team and how they responded after last night,” JSU coach Jim Case said. “It just wasn’t good enough to get us over the hump today.”
JSU had the extra motivation of achieving a first in the school’s Division I history. The Gamecocks entered the Oxford Regional 0-6 in NCAA regional play since moving up to Division I in 1995.
“We always talked about, the game doesn’t change, just the title on top of it,” Petrongolo said. “But that was weighing on our minds a little bit. We wanted to be the first. We wanted to come out and just put our names in the JSU history book to be the first one to win a regional game.”
Just like in the Ole Miss game, JSU took a 1-0 lead. It happened in the fourth inning Sunday, when Ryan Sebra followed singles by Griff Gordon and Petrongolo with one of his own to score Gordon.
JSU still had runners on first and second bases with one out, but Andrew Bishop lined to Tech second baseman Mott Hyde close to the second-base bag, and Petrongolo got caught leaning off the bag.
The double play typified the day for JSU, which lost other opportunities on the base paths.
Tyler Gamble hit a one-out single in the seventh inning and attempted to advance to third base when Cal Lambert singled. Gamble beat right fielder Ryan Peurifoy’s throw but slid off the bag and was tagged for the second out.
“He had the base, but his foot came off the base,” Case said. “He reached back for it. It was the right call. He was off, and the guy tagged him.”
Lambert was forced on Gavin Golsan’s fielder’s choice for the third out.
The eighth inning saw Michael Bishop draw a lead-off walk and take second on Eddie Mora-Loera’s sacrifice bunt. Gordon then grounded to Tech shortstop Connor Justus.
Instead of holding at second base, and Michael Bishop took off for third base. Justus threw to third baseman Brandon Gold, who made the tag for the second out.
Petrongolo followed with a single to left-center field --- a hit that likely would have plated the go-ahead run, if Michael Bishop had held at second base.
“That’s a base-running mistake, and it hurt,” Case said. “Michael has been a really good base runner for us. That was a mistake. I wish he would have stayed in scoring position, right where he was.”
Tech brought closer Dusty Isaacs (8-5) to pitch for Sam Clay, and Isaacs struck out Sebra for the third out.
The Yellow Jackets then took the lead with three runs in the top of the ninth --- all after Lambert, JSU’s catcher, caught Mitch Earnest’s popped bunt and gunned down Ryan Peurifoy after Tech’s Daniel Spingola failed to swing on a hit-and-run play.
With two outs, Singola and Hyde singled ahead of Matt Gonzalez’s two-run double off of JSU closer Travis Stout to give Tech the lead.
“He started me off with a curveball, and I took,” the right-handed Gonzalez said. “He threw me another curveball, which I just hit foul (down the third-base line), so I figured he’d either throw me another one, but he stick away, so I just tried to go to right field.”
Thomas Smith then singled home Gonzalez to make it 4-1. Of the 16 runs JSU gave up in two regional games, 12 came with two outs.
“It was a good rally late, and we’re happy to get a chance to play again,” Tech coach Danny Hall said.
JSU answered by instantly loading the bases. Andrew Bishop and Gamble led off with singles then moved to second and third bases on a wild pitch. Pinch hitter Joe McGuire’s walked.
Golsan grounded down the third-base line to score Andrew Bishop, but Gamble was forced at third base. Michael Bishop and Mora-Loera popped out to end the game.
Gordon called the missed opportunities “frustrating, but we still were able to pull together and stay in the game, up until the very end.”
Tech tied the game at 1-1 tie when Peurifoy tripled and scored on Earnest’s sacrifice fly in the fifth inning.
Isaacs worked an inning and a third for the win. Tech starter Devin Stanton worked five strong innings, allowing six hits and one run with three strikeouts.
JSU starter Taylor Shields allowed seven hits and one run over 6 1/3 innings. Stout (3-1) took the loss in relief of Michael Mason.
“I thought it was a great college baseball game,” Case said. “I thought both teams’ pitchers did a really nice job. Obviously, both teams’ back to the wall, and the starters came out and just did fantastic.
“It was one of those games that’s going to be decided late, and they were able to put together a rally.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.