Philip Pfeifer was not the pitcher Georgia Tech’s hitters thought he was. Then again, he was not even the one Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin planned on for Monday.
“[T.J.] Pecoraro was initially going to start this fourth game but … it was more of a matchup-type thing,” Corbin said. “I’m just glad it worked out.
“… [Pfeifer] knew there was a lot at stake and for an 18, 19-year-old kid to contain those emotions, that’s very difficult. But he’s mature and I’m just happy it worked out for him. I really am.”
The sophomore left-hander has not lost this season, but he has not won a lot either.
His start against Georgia Tech before a sellout crowd in the decisive game of the NCAA regional at Hawkins Field was his 12th of the season but he had only three wins. Five shutout innings was enough for him to get number four and for the Commodores (54-10) to advance to the Super Regional round for the third time in four years with a 7-1 victory over the Yellow Jackets (37-27).
“He had probably a little more of a fastball than we anticipated and threw it inside on our right-handed hitters pretty consistently,” Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said.
Pfeifer’s last start was eight days earlier against LSU in the championship game of the SEC tournament. He threw just 3.2 innings and allowed four runs on nine hits. He ultimately got a no-decision but the Commodores, who lost in 11 innings, trailed by two when he was pulled.
Two of his first three wins came against non-conference competition back in February — more than three months ago — and the third was in a May mid-week game against Belmont, which was the only time in his last nine starts he went at least five innings.
Georgia Tech, one of eight Atlantic Coast Conference teams in the NCAA field, has a lineup that can punish even the best pitchers. It came into the weekend among the nation’s top 10 in home runs and slugging percentage, 15th in hits and 23rd in batting average. It also defeated Vanderbilt 5-0 a day earlier and forced the final contest.
The Yellow Jackets managed just four hits (all singles) and two walks against Pfeifer. They hit into an inning-ending double play in the first, another double play in the second and left runners on first and third in the third.
“[Pfeifer] has a funky delivery and his fastball is pretty good,” leadoff hitter Kyle Wren, who was 0-3 with a walk, said. “He had a good changeup and a good curveball. He kept us off balance and he was consistently pounding the inside corner to the right-handers and I think that kind of gave us some trouble with his [velocity] and his delivery. It was kind of sneaky and getting on us pretty fast.”
In Sunday’s loss, Walker Buehler went six innings but gave up five runs on 10 hits and threw 99 pitches. Tyler Beede lasted only four innings and threw 81 pitches in a game against Illinois, which the Commodores ultimately won handily.
Pfeiffer was much more efficient. He needed 83 pitches before he handed the ball to closer Brian Miller, who did not allow a hit (he did give up an unearned run) over the final four innings.
“It’s just been a big week for Philip Pfeifer,” Corbin said. “He had to pitch a championship game against LSU and I was glad that he got the opportunity to pitch [Monday] night and to pitch so well. He really did. … Just to keep a very good hitting team down — we thought it could be the right match but you just never know.”
Corbin said he made the decision to go with Pfeifer after he watched several of Georgia Tech’s recent games late into Sunday night and during the early morning hours Monday. Following a discussion with his staff it was settled by 10 a.m.
Fewer than 12 hours later, the Knoxville native who is winningest pitcher in Tennessee high school history (he won 46 times for Farragut) had the biggest win of his college career.
“It’s a big deal,” Pfeifer said. “You think about [the seniors] and people that stuck around and defended [the program] up until now. They came back for this moment. Just being able to be a part of making it worth it for them is a huge deal to me.
“I felt like it was just kind of like my turn to defend the program. All of our pitchers were ready to throw [Monday] and I’m glad they chose me. And I’m glad I was able to perform.”