Georgia baseball takes on South Carolina on Sunday looking to avoid sweep
ATHENS – Georgia baseball hushed anyone doubting its ability to compete against tough SEC competition.
Those questioning UGA’s ability to compete consistently or win remain unquieted, though. The Bulldogs (13-6, 0-2 SEC) were a pair of outs away from starting their SEC campaign 1-0 before dropping the first of two doubleheader losses to No. 16 South Carolina on Saturday.
Georgia, which fell by scores of 5-4 and 12-2 at an overcast Foley Field, will look to avoid the sweep at 3 p.m. on a brighter Sunday afternoon.
Several incredible performances in Game One were spoiled by a late Gamecock (19-1, 2-0) rally. The Bulldogs overcame an early 3-1 deficit and took a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning.
That was when South Carolina’s Michael Braswell delivered a pinch-hit, two-run double. The former All-SEC Freshman Team selection slapped a two-strike breaking ball down the right-field line to take a 5-4 lead for good.
It was UGA’s first loss after leading through eight innings this season.
Georgia had plenty of chances to take a bigger lead early in Game One. The Bulldogs hit 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position through the first five innings.
Jaden Woods looked like a seasoned Game One starter against a vaunted South Carolina lineup. The junior lefthander, who spent his first two seasons at UGA in the bullpen, was excellent in his first SEC start.
The Warner Robins product peppered the zone with 67 strikes on 102 pitches and still limited the country’s top home run-hitting team to two solo shots.
Woods tied his career high of 11 strikeouts, surrendering just seven hits for three earned runs in a career-high seven innings of work.
“I thought Jaden was outstanding and he deserved to win,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “He was on line for the win and just unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done 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 RBI and 15 of its 43 home runs entering the weekend, can not be expected to lead a team through the uber-talented SEC on their own.
“They’ve really carried us through the first four weeks, and I think it’s time for all of us, including myself, to step up into a bigger role and maybe take some pressure off of them because the SEC gets really, really hard, and it’s going to take all 11 or 12 of us,” Harber said.
Harber and UGA’s supporting cast hitters did just that in Game One, scoring and batting in all four runs while Tate and Condon were a combined 1-for-9 hitting.
The group was spearheaded by Harber’s game-tying two-run homer in the sixth inning.
Georgia’s hitters were certainly versatile, combining power with ‘small ball’ strategy to answer the early deficit.
Corey Collins and Harber knocked a pair of towering home runs to tie the game at 3-3. Fernando Gonzalez used a leadoff double and a bunt to get to third base, where he scored on a split-second sacrifice fly to get a go-ahead run in the seventh inning.
The Panama product slid just under the leaping Gamecock catcher’s tag to take the 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 shot a leadoff double down the right-field line but could not score the game-tying run from third base.
Harber led the team in Game One, hitting 2 for 3 with two RBI on a home run, a double and a walk.
The Bulldogs struggled to regroup their energy after the sudden and disappointing Game One loss.
“It’s a gut punch, no question about it, but that happens in baseball, and you have to recover,” Stricklin said. “You have to bounce back, and we didn’t do a very good job of that in Game Two.”
Harber started Game Two with another bomb, drawing first blood with a solo homer in the second inning.
The Bulldogs did muster another run but not before the Gamecocks scored 12 unanswered. The 10-run difference through seven innings put the conference’s new run rule in effect, ending the game early.
Game Two starter Liam Sullivan’s nonconference dominance did not carry over into SEC play. The lefthander, who took a 0.44 ERA into the weekend, surrendered 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 country before reaching the SEC Tournament.
It’s certainly a formidable schedule, but it provides ample upset opportunities to impress the NCAA Tournament committee. UGA doesn’t face many expectations in the SEC, as it was predicted to finish fifth in the East division by the conference’s Preseason Coaches Poll.
Avoiding sweeps against teams like South Carolina could make a big difference in the way a national committee perceives Georgia at the end of the season.
“Good teams win a Game Three,” Harber said. “You get 30 of them. I know there’s three in a weekend, but all 30 mean the same, so getting a win tomorrow on our home field is huge for us going forward.”
Freshman righthander Kolten Smith will get his first career weekend start for the Bulldogs. Smith has started the last two midweek games for UGA and will take a 5.19 ERA into Sunday.
Smith shouldn’t be burdened with too much pressure, as Stricklin is yet to use two of his top relievers in Kyle Greenler and Dalton Rhadans this weekend. Stricklin also mentioned reserve arms Matthew Hoskins and Chandler Marsh can pitch in Game Three despite seeing action in Game One.
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