ATHENS — Based on what we’ve seen in the first two outings, we should expect nothing less than a no-hitter in Sunday’s deciding game of this scintillating three-game series between No. 5 Georgia and No. 10 LSU.
Following Friday night’s 1-0 win by the Tigers, the Bulldogs answered Saturday afternoon with another pitching gem from sophomore starter C.J. Smith. Then, a one-out rally in the bottom of the eighth inning broke a scoreless tie, and Georgia followed with some exhilarating ninth-inning pitching and defense to forge a 2-0 win to knot the series at 1-all.
Junior right-hander Tony Locey (3-0, 2.17 ERA) will get the ball and he’ll have a tough act to follow after what Georgia pitchers have done in the first two games.
“Tony doesn’t believe in pressure,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said with a laugh. “Tony is the one guy I don’t worry about. He is pumped up when he wakes up in the morning. He doesn’t care what’s going on, he’s excited to come to the ballpark.”
There was much excitement to be had Saturday as a season-high crowd of 3,344 filled sold-out Foley Field for Game 2 of this matchup of SEC baseball powers. Georgia pitcher C.J. Smith ( 3-0, 1.61) followed Emerson Hancock’s three-hit outing on Friday by striking out a career best seven batters and limiting the hard-charging Tigers to four hits through six innings.
The Bulldogs then went to freshman flame-thrower Cole Wilcox and left-hander Justin Glover for two more scoreless innings before turning to third baseman/closer Aaron Schunk in the ninth.
After allowing a lead-off hit, Schunk notched his SEC-leading eighth save of season. But only after backup first baseman Chaney Rogers made a diving stop in the hole and flipped the ball to Schunk in a bang-bang play at first base for the final out.
The victory gives the Bulldogs (20-3, 4-1 SEC), their best overall record since 1920. LSU falls to 17-6 (4-1 SEC). Georgia pitchers had now allowed just 1 run and eight hits in 18 innings against one of the best-hitting teams in the SEC. The Bulldogs’ staff ERA for the season falls to 2.34.
“I think we’re a force to be reckoned with and I think we’ve been showing that day in and day,” said Schunk, who has yet to lose or allow a run this season. “During the whole game (Friday) and even today, we know we’re the better team and I think we’ve been proving that. We just didn’t have everything come togethers (Friday), which is the way baseball goes sometimes. But we’re just going out and grinding out every at-bat and staying behind our pitchers.”
The game-winning hit came from an unlikely source on Saturday. Austin Biggar, a backup catcher who had played in only 10 of the Bulldogs’ 21 games coming in, came off the bench to pinch hit and guided a fast ball to right field between the LSU first and second basemen. His hit drove in Rogers, who had become the Bulldogs’ first runner at second base the entire game.
A sacrifice fly by Riley King scored the Bulldogs’ second run of the inning before Schunk flyout ended the Georgia eighth. That brought in Schunk to finish the job.
“Austin Biggar was that guy for us today,” Stricklin said. “We didn’t make the decision right away. Right before we were going back into play Coach (Mitch) Gaspard and I were talking about it. We said, ‘fast-ball pitcher, fast-ball hitter,’ we made the decision to put Austin in and let him swing away. He made us look smart. We like it when we make those decisions and they execute.”
Locey will go against freshman Eric Walker (1-0, 5.71) in Sunday’s deciding game. The Bulldogs will come back on Tuesday with a road game at archrival Georgia Tech.