ATHENS — It was hard to tell which of these two baseball teams were more desperate coming in Saturday, Georgia or Tennessee. In the end, though, it was the Vols, and that chapped Bulldogs’ coach Scott Stricklin to no end.
“Their dugout was certainly more excited than our dugout and I’m really disappointed in that,” Stricklin said after Georgia’s 5-2 loss. “They had more energy than us and they executed and they got it done when they needed to.”
The Bulldogs were trying to hold on to their fleeting — and some might say unreasonable — hopes of earning an NCAA regional bid. Meanwhile, the Vols were locked in a battle with Auburn to earn one of the final spots in the 12-team SEC Tournament.
In the end, perhaps the Bulldogs should have played with a little more reckless abandon. Needing a weekend sweep to put pressure on the postseason selection committee to review their situation, Georgia instead suffered a late-game collapse for the second outing in a row. The Bulldogs gave up three runs in the ninth inning, same as it did on Saturday.
Now, nothing short of an SEC tournament championship — which Georgia has never won — will get the Bulldogs into baseball’s big dance. The Bulldogs’ regular-season ends at 27-29 overall and 11-19 in SEC play.
Georgia had already locked up the No. 10 seed for the tournament. They’ll play the No. 7 seed — either Ole Miss or Vanderbilt — on Tuesday at 2 p.m. in Hoover.
“Got to win the tournament,” Stricklin acknowledged. “Tuesday we’ll do our best to go out and win, and then we’ll worry about Wednesday if we get there. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Tennessee (29-27, 9-21 SEC) needed Vanderbilt to beat Auburn later Saturday to earn the league’s 12th and final seed in the tournament.
The Vols had already taken a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth on Brodie Leftridge’s one-out RBI single up the middle, which scored pinch runner Matt Waldren from second. A walk by Blakely Brown brought in Drew Moody to face UT slugger Nick Senzell, and Senzell cashed in with a two-run double to the right.
The ultimate stinger might be this: Senzell was signed to play for the Bulldogs before previous UGA baseball coach David Perno was fired.
Stricklin was asked about the state of his program now three years in.
“I think our foundation is much better; I think we’ve got a good base,” he said. “But the wins and losses, that’s what we’re judged on at the end of the day. We feel good about the freshmen we have and we feel unbelievably great about the guys are coming in. We feel very healthy as a program but, at the end of the day, it’s about the wins and losses and it takes time to build a program.”
Tennessee’s desperation was on display in the seventh inning when the Vols went to pitcher Eric Soto. Soto had just pitched five innings of scoreless relief on Friday to get the win for Tennessee. Soto came through, this time, too, getting McGovern to hit into a inning-ending 4-6-3 double play with runners on first and second.
Soto also induced two strikeouts and a pop-foul-out to third in the bottom of the eighth after Georgia’s Michael Curry reached the open the inning.
“The bottom line was our goal was to extend the season and that goal’s still not out of reach,” senior shortstop Nick King said. “If any guys can make a run, it’s this group. I wouldn’t count us out just yet.”