Georgia sends Jonathan Cannon to extinguish red-hot Vols in ‘Hornet’s Nest’

Georgia pitcher Jonathan Cannon, shown here in the SEC baseball tourney, will take the mound against No. 1-ranked Tennessee on Friday with the Bulldogs pinning hopes on him to shut down the Vols. (Photo by Michael Wade)
Michael Wade

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Georgia pitching ace Jonathan Cannon has been around the SEC block enough times to know how to handle a rough crowd.

“You just have to embrace it,” said Cannon, who will put his 9-1 record and 2.38 ERA on the mound against No. 1-ranked Tennessee in a 5:30 p.m. tilt on Friday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium (TV: SEC Network).

The Vols (44-6, 21-4 SEC) won the series opener by a 5-2 count over the Bulldogs (32-17, 13-12) on Thursday night.

RELATED: Oconee County’s Cole Tate adds punch to Bulldogs’ lineup in 5-2 loss

Georgia junior Nolan Crisp (1-4) provided six strong innings before exiting the game with UGA still within striking distance of the SEC’s top hitting (.306) and scoring (9.2 runs per game) team.

UGA coach Scott Stricklin noted the Bulldogs were one swing away from tying the game on Thursday night in a comeback bid led by Cole Tate’s three-hit performance.

Run support will again be key on Friday, with Tennessee also leading the nation with a 2.26 ERA entering the series and boasting a 32-2 record in what the locals refer to as the “Hornet’s Nest.”

Cannon said he’s confident the Bulldogs have what it takes to handle the moment.

“We have such an experienced group, we’ve been to the places that are tough to play,” Cannon said. “I don’t think that should bother us. We’re an older team, we don’t tend to get rattled by that kind of stuff.”

Stricklin likes the matchup for Cannon.

“There are a lot of first-pitch swingers, we saw that against Crisp, and Jonathan has really good stuff, 94 to 97 mph,” Stricklin said. “He throws a four-pitch mix for strikes.

“We just have to be making quality pitches on strike one, and he can go really deep in the game because they swing so early,” Stricklin said. “It’s a really good offense and Johnathan’s a really good pitcher, so it should be a good matchup.”

Tennessee coach Tony Vitello made it clear the Vols will be playing with an edge, too.

“I know they’re geared up with their big dog,” VItello said.

“Our guys need to think we’re in playoff mode right now.”

Georgia baseball has a Top 10 RPI (9), but the Bulldogs’ have series losses to Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and LSU, other SEC teams that are also competing to host one of the 16 sites for NCAA Regionals.

A win over Tennessee would go a long way and Cannon easily represents the Bulldogs’ best chance in Knoxville.

Georgia closes the regular season at home next week against SEC cellar-dweller Missouri.

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