Georgia spent all season avoiding drama. But after its first two games in the SEC Tournament, it seems like the Bulldogs might actually enjoy a little postseason theater.
After winning Wednesday night’s game on Cam Shepherd’s two-out, two-run, ninth-inning homer, No. 5 Georgia (44-14) scored all three of its runs in the seventh and eighth inning for a come-from-behind victory over No. 6-ranked Arkansas (41-16) in the third round of the SEC Tournament.
After Bulldogs left-hander Ryan Webb got out the first two Razorback batters in the ninth inning, Aaron Schunk took the mound with a runner on first and the tying run at the plate. He gave up another single to put runners at the corners, then came back from a 3-0 count with three incredible sliders to strike out freshman Ryan Nesbit and record his 12th save of the season.
With the victory, the Bulldogs remain in the winner’s bracket, advance to the semifinals and actually get the day off Friday in the second year of the SEC’s single-elimination weekend format.
Junior Tony Locey (10-1, 2.55 ERA) would be the regularly-scheduled starter, but coach Scott Stricklin said the Bulldogs will take a day to decide what’s best. Ace pitcher Emerson Hancock (8-2, 1.31) is still available as well and his starts have been falling on Saturdays.
“Everything we do now will have next week (and the NCAA regionals) in mind,” Stricklin said.
Coming into the SEC Tournament No. 3 in RPI, the Bulldogs were already assured of a national seed.
After avoiding close calls most of the season, the Bulldogs now have come from behind to win both of their SEC tournament games. Georgia has actually never won the SEC Tournament in program history and hadn’t won a game in the tournament since 2011.
But they seem supremely motivated to keep the good vibes going at this point.
“Trophies are good,” Stricklin said. “That’s what you’ve got trophy cases for.”
Connor Tate, clutch in his pinch-hitter role all season, came though again in the seventh with a double drives in Shepherd and tie Arkansas at 1-1. It was the third time this season Tate came through in a pinch-hit role.
In the eighth, a leadoff double by Schunk was followed by a groundout to L.J. Talley and a strikeout by John Cable. Patrick Sullivan made the Razorbacks pay for a surprising intentional walk to Shepherd with a bloop double down the line in left to plate both runners.
“I got lucky, but I’ll take it,” Sullivan said with a laugh.
Unknown at the time was that Schunk, Georgia’s third baseman and closer, had snuck down to the bullpen to throw 10 quick warm-up pitches before his at-bat. That, too, paid off, as Schunk knew he had his breaking stuff working.
“It’s about being ready at all times,” Schunk said. “When it hits the fan you’ve got to be ready to go.”
Stricklin wasn’t sure what he was going to have his team do with a rare day off during a tournament.
“Lift weights, go to the gym, maybe a little cage work,” he said. “Pretty much I’ll probably just give them the day off. They certainly deserve it.”
They certainly do.