ATLANTA -- Former Lee County star Thomas Nichols told The Herald last month he felt this was finally the year for the uber-talented Yellow Jackets to make a deep run in the College World Series.
As it turns out, they didn't even make it out of the NCAA Regionals.
For the second straight year, Georgia Tech's hopeful season went down in flames at Russ Chandler Stadium as the Jackets lost Monday night in an elimination game to Alabama, 10-8, in front of 3,113 fans in the NCAA Atlanta Regional.
Nichols did his best to get Tech to the Super Regionals, going 2-for-4 with an RBI, but it wasn't enough.
And for all the big bats Georgia Tech's baseball team boasts, the
Yellow Jackets had no answer for the smallest player on the field in Monday night's game.
Standing just 5-foot-6 and weighing only 160 pounds, Nathan Kilcrease loomed large coming back on just two days rest after throwing seven innings in a win over Mercer on Saturday.
The junior right-hander threw six clutch innings out of the bullpen, and the Crimson Tide got a huge night at the plate from Jake Smith to come out of the elimination bracket and pull off the upset.
"You guys saw it with Kilcrease," Tide coach Mitch Gaspard told The Associated Press. "He just kept battling. When it got to the end of the game, I think as much as anything this team believes so much in that kid that we were going to keep the ball in his hands and we were going to win or lose with (No.) 28 on the mound."
Smith went 2-for-4 with a double and four RBI, while Clay Jones was 2-for-3 with a three-run home run that capped a five-run fourth inning that turned the Tide of the game with Alabama trailing by three runs at the beginning of the inning.
But the story was Kilcrease (8-2), who threw 107 pitches just two days after throwing 99, and limited Tech to just two runs over the final six innings to earn tournament Most Valuable Player honors and send Alabama (41-23) to next weekend's Super Regional series against Clemson, which ended Auburn's season in another regional Monday, 13-7.
The diminutive right-hander came up with his biggest pitching in the final two innings, as the Jackets (47-15) put the tying runs on base in both the eighth and ninth.
But Kilcrease got Buford grad Chase Burnette to ground out to second and end the eighth, and got Derek Dietrich to hit a line drive right at Jon Kelton in left field for the final out of the ninth.
The two teams traded runs with regularity in the early innings, with Alabama striking first on Smith's two-run double in the top of the first, only to have Tech respond in the bottom half.
Dietrich blasted his first home run in almost three weeks after Jay Dantzler's leadoff single, tying the game at 2-2, and the Jackets weren't done.
Burnette followed suit with a two-run shot later in the inning, and Tech led 4-2.
It would be the first salvo in a back-and-forth barrage over the next five innings.
Tech scored single runs in the second and third -- including an RBI ground out by Tony Plagman -- to take as much as a 6-3 lead after three innings.
But Alabama struck back in a big way off Jackets starter Jed Bradley (9-5) with two outs and a runner on in the fourth.
Josh Rutledge had the first big blow with a two-run double to cut Tech's lead to 6-5.
After Ross Wilson drew a walk, Clay Jones followed by lofting what appeared to be a routine fly ball into the jet stream blowing out to right field and having it carry well over the wall for a three-run homer that gave the Crimson Tide an 8-6 lead.
Tech battled back in the bottom of the inning, getting RBI singles from Cole Leonida and Nichols to briefly re-tie the game at 6-6. But Alabama made its move to take the lead for good in the sixth by taking advantage of wildness from reliever Patrick Long after chasing Bradley from the game.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Tech, which suffered another premature postseason exit despite coming into the regional with a top-eight national seed.
Jackets coach Danny Hall couldn't hide his team's disappointment.
"In the ninth, we ended up having Dietrich up there with the game still hanging in the balance," Hall said. "We just couldn't quite get it done."
The Jackets did place four players on the All-Tournament Team, including Burnette, who went 8-for-17 with two homers and three RBI for the tournament, and Plagman, who was 7-for-18 with two homers and five RBI.