ATHENS — A Georgia baseball team that is finally rounding back into form arrives on The Plains tonight to face Auburn in another critical SEC series for the Bulldogs’ championship pursuits.
No. 8 Georgia (37-13, 16-8 SEC) welcomes back pitching ace Emerson Hancock and dual-threat All-American Aaron Schunk after the star players both missed last weekend’s series sweep against Florida. The sophomore right-hander Hancock (7-2, 1.04 ERA) actually has missed his last two starts due to what coach Scott Stricklin describes as a “lat pull” (latissimus dorsi muscle) in his back.
Hancock will take the Saturday start rather than his customary Friday night spot in the rotation. Regular Sunday starter Toney Locey (8-1, 2.63) will be on the mound for tonight’s 7 p.m. as he was last Friday when he got the win against the Gators.
“Emerson’s going to throw on Saturday,” Stricklin said. “He threw a simulated game last Friday before Florida showed up and we watched him throw 97-98 miles an hour to our guys, but we just wanted to be cautious and make sure he was OK before he got into a game setting.”
Schunk, who doubles as a third baseman and closer, actually returned to action this past Tuesday night as the Bulldogs dropped an 11-inning decision to Jacksonville State. He entered the game as a pinch hitter in the fifth inning that sparked a five-run rally that wiped out a 7-2 deficit. He played six innings at third base before taking the mound in the 11th and giving up the Gamecocks’ game-winning run. Schunk (1-2, 2.53, 11 saves) sat out the previous six games with a heel injury.
Center fielder Tucker Maxwell (.248, 19-22 SBs) is also coming back after sitting out with a hamstring pull.
Georgia’s not yet back to full health, however. Left-hander C.J. Smith is now out with a “back issue” and is expected to remain sidelined at least until the SEC Tournament that starts May 21 in Hoover.
“It’s nothing serious but it’s one of those lower-back things that we’ve all had and we just need it to settle down a little bit,” Stricklin said. “We hope to have him back for the postseason.”
That will mean either junior Tim Elliott (6.3, 2.56) or freshman Cole Wilcox (2-0, 4.17) will get Sunday’s start. Both recorded dominating wins against the Gators.
As for the conference race, the Bulldogs continue chase league-leading Vanderbilt (39-9, 18-6) by two games with six SEC games remaining in the regular season. Georgia, which hasn’t claimed an SEC title since 2008, would best the Commodores in a tiebreaker after taking two of three games in their series in Athens earlier this season. Third-place Missouri (33-16-1, 12-11-1) visits Vandy this weekend.
The Bulldogs have had their own problems with Auburn in recent years. The Tigers (29-19, 12-12) have won the past three series and swept Georgia the last time it visited Plainsman Park in 2015. The Bulldogs haven’t claimed a series at Auburn since 2006.
But Georgia has already demonstrated that its 2019 team is a special one. The Bulldogs have posted their best 50-game record since the 1990 national championship team was 40-10 at this point in the season. That team claimed Georgia’s first national championship and finished with a record of 52-19.
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