ATHENS — If only Jake Fromm was still playing third base.
There will be a Houston County baseball reunion at Foley Field tonight. Georgia pitcher Tony Locey will face off against Tanner Hall of Mercer in the first round of the NCAA Athens Regional at 7 p.m. (TV: SEC Network; radio: WRFC 960-AM). The two pitchers were key players on Houston County’s state championship team their senior years in 2016.
Fromm, who no longer plays baseball, was a power-hitting third baseman on that team. But the Bulldogs’ star quarterback plans to be in attendance, as does Jason Brett, head baseball coach of the Houston County Bears.
“He’s so proud of us,” Locey said of Coach Brett. “I don’t think there’s ever been two kids that won a state championship together who faced off in a regional. It’s going to be a cool experience. I’ve known Tanner for a long time, he’s known me for a long time, so we’re just both going to go out there and throw our game and see what happens.”
Now that it’s official, can’t wait for the special opportunity to watch two former hoco greats @LoceyTony32 and @T_Hall10 square off this Friday night in the Athens regional. Don’t know what the chances were of this happening but really excited that it is. pic.twitter.com/sPKLTKA4UY
— HoCo Baseball (@hocobaseball) May 29, 2019
The Bulldogs might have a slight edge. Georgia (44-15) enters the nation’s No. 4 overall seed, while Mercer (36-21) is seeded fourth in the four-team regional. The Bears earned a bid by winning the Southern Conference Tournament.
“I always tell our guys that it’s not the best team that wins but the team that plays the best,” Mercer coach Craig Gibson said. “Obviously, they’re the best team. … I don’t know if we were the best team in our league, to be honest, but we played the best for three or four days. Certainly we’re facing a giant here. We have our hands full. Hopefully we can throw strikes and make some plays.”
Florida Atlantic, the No. 2 seed, takes on third-seeded Florida State in the other half of the Athens bracket. That game starts at noon at Foley Field.
There’s precedence for Mercer beating Georgia. In fact, the Bears have won four of the last five games — including a sweep in 2017 — in a series that has been played regularly over the years. The two teams did not play this season, however.
“We’re not going to be concerned with that,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “Every team that’s going to play us is going to want to knock us off. Them having a lot of guys from the state of Georgia, they’ll be excited to play us, and we’re excited to play, too. We can’t control their intensity; we can control our intensity. They’re going to bring it; we’re going to bring it. It should be fun.”
Especially for that Houston County crew.
Locey, Hall and Fromm were key pieces for the Bears’ run to the state championship in 2016. Fromm hit a game-winning home run during that run. Locey and Hall divvied up the business of sitting down opposing batters.
Fromm and Locey remain close. They are roommates at UGA and compete in everything from ping pong to hunting and fishing. Locey likes to rib Fromm about his baseball skills. Earlier this spring, they went to a batting cage together.
“Nothing’s changed; he still can’t hit,” Locey cracked. “He picked the right sport.”
But once the umpire shouts “play ball,” all jokes will be bagged along with the practice bats and balls. The Bulldogs were a national seed last year, too, but got knocked out of their own regional by Duke.
Avoiding that fate this year is a matter of intense focus for all the Bulldogs, Locey especially. The hard-throwing righty is 10-2 overall this season and Georgia is 12-2 whenever he takes the mound.
“We’ve been looking forward to this game ever since we started weight training last July,” he said.