ATHENS — Twenty-one and three.
That’s the win-loss record Georgia’s baseball team will take to Georgia Tech (16-8) on Tuesday. It’s impressive on its own, without any context. But when one takes into account the rash of injuries the Bulldogs have dealt with to this point, it borders on miraculous.
Georgia added another name to its long list of sidelined players on Sunday when Mason Meadows fouled off a pitch into his own face during an at-bat against LSU. The Bulldogs’ starting catcher suffered facial fractures as a result and is out indefinitely. He’ll undergo surgery in the coming days
“The eye itself is OK, and that’s what my concern was,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said on Monday. “I’ve had players whose careers were ended because of an injury like this and that’s not the case here. … So when our trainer told us what the injury was I took it as really good news. The injury’s bad but it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Meadows, a redshirt sophomore from Roswell, had started 17 games and played in 20 at catcher this season. He was hitting just .231 but had distinguished himself as the Bulldogs’ best defender behind the plate and a real weapon with runners on base. He’d thrown out eight of 16 runners trying to steal a base.
Stricklin remains hopeful that Meadows might be able to return at some point late in the season, but is not making any predictions. In the meantime , the Bulldogs will turn to junior Austin Biggar to catch. The junior from Lilburn came through in a big way this past weekend against LSU, getting the game-winning hit Saturday and hitting a game-sealing two-run homer in the bottom of eighth in Sunday’s 9-7 series-clinching victory.
Meadows’ name is now on an injured list that already included starting left fielder Tucker Bradley (shoulder), starting first baseman Patrick Sullivan (concussion) and pitchers Ryan Webb and Will Proctor, each of whom had to be shut down this month due to arm soreness.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs extended themselves to the limit physically and mentally in taking two of three games from No. 10 LSU this past weekend. Georgia’s bullpen — most notably, NCAA save leader Aaron Schunk — is suffering from overuse and that will have to be factored in for Tuesday’s game against Georgia Tech.
Stricklin said he has no plans regardless of situation to turn to Schunk, who pitched three innings and recorded two more saves against LSU to bring his nation-leading total to nine for the season.
“It’s been tough; little by little it’s trickled in,” Stricklin said of the mounting injuries. “For us to be 5-1 (in the SEC) right now as beat up as we are, I’m certainly pleased. But I’m looking forward to getting healthier.”
It’s hard to imagine Georgia playing much better. The Bulldogs are off to their best start since 2009 when that club had an identical record after 24 games. However, this year’s squad is 5-1 in the SEC, which is tied with Arkansas and Texas A&M for the best record in the league.
In the meantime, Georgia moved up to No. 4 in D1Baseball.com’s Top 25 poll. It’s the highest ranking for the Bulldogs since checking in at No. 1 for five weeks during the 2009 season. Georgia is now No. 6 in Baseball America’s rankings, also its highest since 2009.
The Bulldogs are playing well in all three phases of the game, batting .290 with a .406 on base percentage, a 2.54 ERA and a .982 fielding percentage (which is tied for fourth nationally).
Georgia Tech is also playing well. The Yellow Jackets won a road series against No. 4 Louisville this past weekend. Game 2 of the annual three-game series with Tech will be April 9 in Athens and the final game will be at Atlanta’s SunTrust Park on April 23 to benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Starting next year, however, Tech and Georgia will switch to a three-game weekend series format. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned Monday that the schools recently entered into a two-year agreement to play on one campus on Friday, on the other campus on Saturday and Sunday at SunTrust Park.
“It’s a great rivalry and playing on the weekend will allow more of our fans to see the games,” Stricklin said. “Thanks to the Atlanta Braves and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for their cooperation.”
As it is now, neither team is able to offer up its best pitching in the long-played rivalry. Tomorrow night, Georgia will start junior right-hander Tim Elliott (3-1, 0.39) against Tech right-hander Amos Willingham (3-0, 3.38). Expect liberal substitutions throughout as both teams will keep their focus on conference play. The Bulldogs head back out on the road this weekend to face Kentucky.
“We’ll see how guys are feeling when we get to the field,” Stricklin said. “We’re a little beat-up, yeah, but this time of year everybody is. Tech’s got a couple of guys out, too. But it’s a rivalry game, it’s going to be a challenge and we’re going to need some people to step up.”
Georgia has been coming though on that front all season.