Georgia baseball shows it can make SEC opener, but drops ‘gut punch’ doubleheader at No. 16 South Carolina
ATHENS — Georgian baseball has silenced anyone who doubted its ability to compete against stiff competition from the SEC.
Those who question UGA’s ability to compete consistently or win, however, remain adamant. The Bulldogs (13-6, 0-2 SEC) were two outs from the start of their SEC 1-0 campaign before dropping the first of two double-deal losses to No. 16 South Carolina on Saturday.
Georgia, which fell by scores of 5-4, 12-2 at an indoor Foley Field, will look to avoid the sweep at 3 p.m. on a brighter Sunday afternoon.
Several incredible performances in the opener were marred by a late Gamecock rally (19-1, 2-0). The Bulldogs overcame an early 3-1 deficit and took a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning.
That’s when South Carolina’s Michael Braswell scored a two-run brace. The former All-SEC Freshman Team selection slapped a two-shot breaking ball down the right-field line to take a 5-4 lead for good.
It was UGA’s first loss after leading eight innings this season.
Georgia had plenty of opportunities to take a bigger lead early in Game 1. The Bulldogs went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position through the first five innings.
Jaden Woods looked like a seasoned starter in Game 1 against a much-vaunted South Carolina roster. The junior southpaw, who spent his first two seasons at UGA in the bullpen, was excellent in his first SEC start.
The Warner Robins product has peppered the area with 67 hits on 102 pitches and has consistently limited the nation’s top home run team to two solo hits.
Woods matched his career-high 11 strikeouts, allowing just seven hits for three earned runs in seven career-high innings.
“I thought Jaden was outstanding and deserved to win,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “He was in line for the win and unfortunately we couldn’t do it in the end.”
Third baseman Parks Harber stressed the importance of the team’s other seven hitters providing more support for Connor Tate and Charlie Condon on Thursday.
Tate and Condon, who accounted for 68 of UGA’s 168 RBIs and 15 of its 43 homers entering the weekend, can’t expect to lead a team through the ultra-talented SEC on their own.
“They really carried us through the first four weeks, and I think it’s time for all of us, myself included, to take on a bigger role and maybe relieve them because the SEC is really becoming , really tough, and it’s going to take all 11 or 12 of us,” Harber said.
Support hitters from Harber and UGA did just that in Game 1, scoring and batting in all four runs while Tate and Condon were a 1-for-9 combo hit.
The group was led by Harber’s two-run tying home run in the sixth inning.
Georgia’s hitters were certainly versatile, combining power and “small ball” strategy to close the initial deficit.
Corey Collins and Harber hit a pair of big home runs to tie the game at 3-3. Fernando Gonzalez used a brace and bunt to get to third base, where he scored on a split-second sacrificial volley to get a go-ahead in the seventh inning.
The Panama product slipped just under the leaping receiver Gamecock tag to take a 4-3 lead.
Eight-hole hitter Sebastian Murillo even gave the Bulldogs a chance to tie after falling behind in the bottom of the ninth. The shortstop fired a brace down the right field line, but couldn’t score the tying run from third base.
Harber led the team in Game 1, hitting 2-for-3 with two RBIs on a home run, a double and a walk.
The Bulldogs struggled to regroup their energy after the sudden and disappointing Game 1 loss.
“It’s a punch, there’s no doubt about it, but it happens in baseball and you have to recover,” Stricklin said. “You have to bounce back, and we didn’t do a very good job in that second game.”
Harber started Game 2 with another bomb, drawing first blood with a solo homer in the second inning.
The Bulldogs had another run, but not before the Gamecocks scored 12 unanswered. The 10-run difference over seven innings put the conference’s new running rule into effect, ending the game early.
Game 2 starter Liam Sullivan’s non-conference dominance did not carry over into SEC play. The southpaw, who had a .44 ERA over the weekend, allowed five earned runs on six hits and two walks in 3.1 innings.
South Carolina is the first of seven ranked teams Georgia has on its conference schedule. The Bulldogs will face six of the top seven teams in the nation before reaching the SEC Tournament.
It’s certainly a terrific schedule, but it offers plenty of upset opportunities to impress the NCAA Tournament Committee. UGA doesn’t face a lot of expectations in the SEC, as it was predicted to finish fifth in the Eastern Division by the conference’s preseason coaches’ poll.
Avoiding sweeps against teams like South Carolina could make a big difference in how a National Committee views Georgia at the end of the season.
“Good teams win game three,” Harber said. “You get 30. I know there are three in a weekend, but 30 means the same thing, so to get a win tomorrow at our home ground is huge for us going forward.
Freshman right-hander Kolten Smith will get his first career weekend start for the Bulldogs. Smith started the last two midweek games for UGA and will take a 5.19 ERA on Sunday.
Smith shouldn’t be burdened with too much pressure, as Stricklin has yet to use two of his best relievers in Kyle Greenler and Dalton Rhadans this weekend. Stricklin also mentioned that backup arms Matthew Hoskins and Chandler Marsh can pitch in Game 3 despite the action in Game 1.
Georgia Baseball vs. South Carolina Box Score, Game 1
Georgia baseball vs. South Carolina Box Score, Game 2