Jackets Title Game Comeback Falls Just Short
The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets faced off against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the championship game of the MCLA National Tournament Powered by New Balance. The Jackets in their fifth semi-final appearance finally broke through to make the championship game. The Gamecocks were the reigning champions after claiming their first title in 2019 before the two COVID affected seasons. This was the third time that the two teams had faced off. In March the Jackets took a 12-8 win in Columbia, while in late April the Gamecocks took the second matchup in the SELC championship game by a score of 17-15.
The game was another chapter in a budding rivalry between the two programs. In 2018 the two teams met in the first round of the MCLA tournament with the Gamecocks taking the win over a young Jacket squad. In 2019 the teams met in the SELC Championship game with both teams ranked in the top 5. The Gamecocks once again took the win wearing down the Jackets as the game wore on. Both teams made the final four that year with the Jackets losing to Cal in overtime while the Gamecocks defeated Chapman and then defeated Cal in the championship game to win the first National Championship for any SELC team. The two teams met again in 2020 before the season was cancelled with the Gamecocks traveling to Atlanta and after spotting the Gamecocks a 2-0 lead early, the Jackets took control of the game and won 15-5. The teams did not face off in 2021 as both teams navigated school regulations determining what would be permitted. Following the 2020 season the two teams who had been conference foes were placed in the same region following SELC re-alignment meaning the two teams will now face each other every season.
South Carolina entered the MCLA tournament as hot as any team in the country after reeling off 10 straight victories after the loss to the Jackets including several over highly ranked teams. The Gamecocks felt they were under-seeded entering as the 3 seed. Despite the nail biter with the Gamecocks in the SELC final, the Jackets were seeded eighth entering the national tournament.
Both teams fought their way through the first three rounds to meet once again for the National Championship in the rubber match.
The Gamecocks showed their mettle early taking advantage of any Yellow Jackets mistakes and being the aggressors all over the field. The Gamecocks scored on their first possession and eventually took a 5-0 lead before the Jackets struck. The Gamecocks would score again before Tech finally strung two goals together bringing the score 6-3 with the Jackets beginning to find their footing behind goals from Devin Raun and Brooks Baro. The Jackets went offsides on the clear attempt and the Gamecocks scored on an empty net after the quick restart and would score again on the ensuing faceoff to push the lead back to 8-3 which held for the halftime score. The quick run from the Gamecocks could have broken the will of the Jackets, but Tech would not go quietly.
Freshman Nick Eliacin scored on the opening possession of the second half to give the Jackets renewed energy. South Carolina would answer once more 40 seconds later. Freshman Aaron Piszczek would win the ensuing faceoff forward for a fast break and passed to Sam Eck who found Max Lucas inside and Lucas hit the back of the net. The Gamecocks would add another goal before the teams traded stops for several minutes. Max Lucas would score once again when Brooks Baro found him sneaking on the backside of the offense. With the Tech offense beginning to find their groove as they got more possessions the Jackets started to look more comfortable. Zach Schenken fed Sam Eck on a beautiful two man play and Eck rifled a shot past the Gamecock goalkeeper. Brooks Baro scored his second goal of the day to close out the third quarter scoring with a shot that found the corner out of a roll on the right wing.
Early in the fourth quarter Gino Pagliaro made a save and corralled the rebound and took off up-field. A Gamecock midfielder was on his back but Pagliaro managed to separate from him as he kept running to the offensive end of the field. The defense began to collapse around Pagliaro as he approached the goal, but Pagliaro found a cutting Sam Eck and slipped a pass to him through a tight window and Eck curled around his defender before firing a jump shot past the goalie to bring the Jackets within one.
The Gamecocks would answer to push the score back to 11-9 and from there both defenses clamped down on the offenses. Pagliaro made several more saves and the Jackets had opportunities but not could not find paydirt.
In the end the Gamecocks defeated the Yellow Jackets 11-9 as Tech simply dug too deep a hole early in the game and the Gamecocks took advantage of the mistakes. The win gave the Gamecocks the series win for the season as well as their second National Championship. In the three games each team scored 36 goals. The series will be renewed in 2023 when the Gamecocks come to the flats.