ATHENS — Being a midweek starter on a college baseball team can be a ho-hum job. Typically it means you’re not a good enough of a pitcher to be included in the weekend rotation.
Then there’s Georgia’s Tim Elliott. Not only has he offered up good enough stuff to be considered a Friday night starter at a lot of places, but he has been putting up otherworldly numbers against mostly Top 25 opponents.
Elliott will get a chance to do that yet again tonight as the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (33-8) take on No. 11 Georgia Tech (27-13) in their annual game at SunTrust benefiting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. More than 20,000 tickets already have been sold for what we stand as the rubber game in this year’s three-game series.
Elliott got his first career win at SunTrust pitching in relief against the Yellow Jackets as a freshman in 2017.
“It’s huge,” said Elliott, who was also Georgia’s starter in its two previous games against Tech this year. “Not only are they a ranked team, but they’re our rivals. ‘Squash the bugs’ is our thing. We’ve beaten them the last two years, so getting this series win again is going to be huge.”
Elliott’s confidence is well earned. The junior right-hander has been a midweek force on the mound for the Bulldogs this season. He enters tonight’s game 5-1 with 1.52 ERA). It will be his third start against Tech this season. He is 1-0 with a 2.38 ERA against the Yellow Jackets this year. In 11.1 innings he has allowed 3 earned runs on 7 hits with 13 strikeouts and 5 walks.
Tech will counter with freshman right-hander Cort Roedig (1-1, 4.05 ERA), who will be making his fifth start of the year.
Elliott’s work has helped make Georgia’s pitching staff the best in college baseball this year. The Bulldogs lead the NCAA in earned-run average (2.57), fewest hits allowed per nine innings (5.70) and walks and hits per 9 innings pitched, or WHIP, (1.04).
Opponents are batting only .182 against the Bulldogs, who also sport a .982 fielding percentage (3rd nationally). Georgia’s record for lowest ERA in a season is 2.97 by the 1958 club and the next best is 3.26 by the 1967 squad.
The Bulldogs also have been getting some timely hitting. They’re batting .266 with a .376 on base percentage. But it’s pitching that has put Georgia in the national championship picture this season.
“I had a coach after our weekend series was over say to me, ‘you know, you’re pitching is relentless.’ That’s the word he used,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “We’re able to bring out one guy after the next without much dropoff. Every starter we have is low- to mid-90s and we have guys coming out of the pen throwing 98 miles an hour. Just every single guy that’s going to the mound has plus-plus stuff, and that’s exhausting to other teams, to other hitters. We just keep coming at you.”
Elliott, a 6-1 junior out of Loganville, very much wanted to be part of the Bulldogs’ rotation. He was barely edged out for that duty coming into this season.
But it’s hard to argue with results as Emerson Hancock (7-2, 1.04 ERA), Tony Locey (7-0, 2.04) and C.J. Smith (3-2, 3.05) all have been not just effective, but dominating. Behind them all has been a hard-throwing bullpen featuring Aaron Schunk (11 saves, 1-1, 2.14), Zac Kristofak (5 saves, 3-0, 3.86) and Cole Wilcox (1-0, 1.50 WHIP).
Elliott has come to grips with his role and embraced it.
“Of course I wanted to be a weekend starter,” he said. “I thought I deserved it; we all do. We all compete, but we all love each other. Once I got (the midweek) spot, I was like, ‘you know, I’m going to be the best weekday starter out there. I’m going to prove I deserve to be there.’ Next thing you know we’re facing Top 25 teams every week and it worked out well.”
It has. And the Bulldogs hope to use that to their advantage again tonight.
Technically, the non-conference game is not going to affect Georgia’s national profile. There’s cause to overlook this game and focus on what’s about to transpire this coming weekend at Mississippi State.
But that won’t happen.
“It’s the biggest game of the year,” Stricklin said. “It’s for bragging rights in the state, it’s our rival, it’s at SunTrust Park, it’s tied 1-to-1, everything’s on the line. So, for us, it’s the biggest game of the year.”