ATHENS — Georgia baseball blasted Kentucky 17-6 on Sunday to take two of three in the weekend series at Foley Field.
The No. 20-ranked Bulldogs (23-12, 7-8 SEC) responded to losing the first game of the series on Friday night to the Wildcats (22-11, 7-8) with a combative attitude.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth on our own field,” UGA infielder Garrett Blaylock said, explaining the mindset Friday night’s 6-1 loss. “Eventually, someone is going to have to step up and say that’s not going to fly anymore.”
The pivotal moment in the series came in the top of the fifth inning in Game Two, when Ben Harris came into a tied game in relief of Jonathon Cannon with two Wildcats in scoring position and one out. Harris forced a pop-out to the third baseman and a strikeout on a high fastball to end the threat.
“We got the momentum in that inning, and we gave up two runs,” Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin said. “I think that was where the game was won.”
Harris was the first of many Bulldogs to step up and answer the call over the weekend, earning the win in Game Two by pitching a career high 4.1 innings with six strikeouts.
Freshman Jaden Woods recorded the final out of the ninth inning to earn the save and secure the 8-7 victory for the Bulldogs.
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Stricklin had scrambled the lineup on Saturday, moving the hot-hitting Josh McAllister to the leadoff hole on to try to get more productivity early in innings. Bulldog lead-off batters went 6-for-8, and that opened the playbook for Stricklin to bunt runners over.
McAllister, Riley King, Luke Wagner, and Cole Tate combined to attempt a sacrifice bunt in six at-bats over the last four innings, including a safety squeeze by Wagner to score the deciding eighth run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
“It just kept coming up in those situations,” Stricklin said. “We played some small ball tonight, and it wasn’t because it didn’t work last night (Friday), but because of the situation.”
While the Bulldogs tallied 11 hits in Friday night’s loss, they also stranded 11 men on base and committed two errors that allowed two unearned runs to score.
The bunt game helped set up the right hits at the right times—and prevent a recurrence of Friday night’s bottom of the fourth inning when Georgia had runners on first and second base without an out and failed to advance a runner.
“That extra 90 feet is big, because that turns from a gapper scoring a guy to hitting a single [scoring a single],” King said. “Hitting is contagious, so when you see that first guy go, the next guy wants a part of it.”
King’s words proved true in the rubber match on Sunday when Georgia cruised to a 17-6 victory to clinch their second consecutive conference series win of the season.
Woods, just a freshman, pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings in Sunday’s win over the Wildcats.
Woods explained how he has quickly become one of the top relief pitchers in the SEC.
“I would say just keeping a clear head and not making the situation bigger than it already is,” Woods said. “Just coming in and thinking with the two-out release situations, I come in thinking with the mindset that I have to get three outs instead of one out.”
Cole Tate, Chaney Rogers, and Fernando Gonzalez each contributed three hits to Georgia’s 18 hit day.
Georgia struck first after freshman catcher Gonzalez’ three-run homer in the bottom of the second inning; Gonzalez hit his first collegiate home run on Sunday, including setting career highs for hits (3) and RBIs (5).
“Coach (Scott) Daeley, after we scored three in the second, was talking about 10,” Stricklin said. “We need 10, we need 10. And then when we got to 10, we need 15. It’s just a really aggressive approach by our hitters today.”
The Bulldogs shifted their pitching rotation up by a day, throwing Ryan Webb on Friday and Cannon on Saturday.
Luke Wagner again opened the bullpen game for UGA on Sunday, but Woods (2-0) earned the win after pitching 2.1 innings without allowing a baserunner. Woods was one of seven arms to contribute to the effort for Georgia.
Georgia next plays Clemson (15-17, 9-12 ACC) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night at Foley (TV: SEC Network).
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The Bulldogs beat the Tigers 2-0 at Clemson, S.C., on March 30.