ATHENS — The No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs won again on Wednesday, and this time victory came in the most dramatic of fashions.
Cam Shepherd, a .229 hitter, hit a two-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to lift Georgia to a 2-0 win over Texas A&M in the second round of the SEC Tournament.
That was only the second “walk-off win” of the season for the Bulldogs (43-14), who have tended to have the outcome in well in hand by the time ninth inning rolled around. Georgia’s 3-2 victory over then No. 24 Clemson in the 20th inning on April 16 is the only other time they’ve won on the last pitch.
Now the Bulldogs will look to advance in the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2011, when they last won at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. They will take on No. 2 seed Arkansas (41-15) tonight around 5:30 p.m. (ET).
It’s a double-elimination tournament until the final rounds, so Georgia is assured of at least two more games. Freshman Cole Wilcox (3-1, 4.17) will get the start next for UGA.
Already carrying an RPI of No. 3, the Bulldogs effectively don’t need any more victories to lock down a national seed. But Georgia entered the tournament with an attitude of “might as well win” as long as it’s there.
As the Bulldogs continue their foray into postseason play, now is a good time to get to know some of the players for something beyond their on-base percentage or ERA. This Georgia team is full of good guys who also happen to be very good baseball players.
Here’s three that deserve cheering on:
Aaron Schunk, big brother
There are a lot of baseball reasons to like junior Aaron Schunk, starting with the fact that he may be the best two-way player in America. Schunk is the Bulldogs’ starting third baseman and one of the team’s top hitters, but he also doubles as their closer and has 11 saves in 16 appearances.
To Peyton Duvall, though, he’s just “Schunky.”
Duvall is a little boy that Schunk met quite by accident last season. Duvall offered him a two-fingered, high-five through the protective net beside Foley Field while Schunk was warming up in the on-deck circle. Schunk followed with a double and a relationship was born.
That was in March of 2018. Fourteen months later, Schunk not only remains best buddies with little Peyton Duvall, but he has been adopted by the whole Duvall family, including mom and dad, Erin and Robby Duvall. They go out to eat together, visit each other’s homes and the Duvalls now follow the Diamond Dawgs almost everywhere. That includes Hoover, Ala., where Georgia is competing this week as the No. 3 seed.
“We’ve just kept the routine going,” said Schunk, who leads the Bulldogs in home runs, total bases and slugging percentage, among other things. “They started coming out after the games saying hey and then the friendship just took off from there. They’re basically part of my family now and it’s like he’s my little brother.”
Peyton Duvall, who has some special needs, now wears his No. 22 Schunk jersey to all the Bulldogs’ games, while the rest of the family wears red “Schunk Squad” T-shirts.
“We tell our guys all the time, ‘you never know who’s watching you, you never know how what you do and say may affect other others,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “Aaron has been able to positively affect this young man, who just loves him.”
You can see a great video on the relationship of Peyton Duvall and Aaron Schunk on georgiadogs.com.
Big Bad John
John Cable’s cheeks flush to red when the conversation turns to his unique walk-up music. While most of his teammates come to bat to the tune of rap music, modern country or classic rock-and-roll, Cable enters the box to sounds of Jimmy Dean’s 1961 country music hit, “Big Bad John.”
“I just got it from my old team,” said Cable, a Roswell resident who came to Georgia from the University of New Orleans as a graduate transfer last year. “They kind of wanted me to do it and that’s how it happened. I knew of the song but I really didn’t know who (Jimmy Dean) was.”
Most Georgia fans didn’t know who Cable was until well after he arrived last June. He actually started his career at Darton College in Albany and earned junior college All-America honors while hitting .373 over two seasons. The Bulldogs were looking for more “pop” in their lineup after losing their top three power hitters from 2018. After a year at UNO in which he hit .349, Cable just kind of showed up.
“We lucked into that one,” Stricklin said. “He wanted to come to Georgia; he wanted to play here. He was able to transfer in as a graduate transfer and we didn’t talk to him until June. We’re really fortunate to have him.”
That they are. Cable entered SEC tournament play third on the team with a .316 average and leading the Bulldogs with 45 RBI. Four times this season he has had 4-RBI games, including this past Saturday against Alabama.
On Wednesday, Cable’s two-out single to left extended the game and brought Cam Shepherd to the plate. Shepherd delivered a walk-off home run.
“He’s just been clutch,” Stricklin said. “Every single time he’s been up there you just feel like he’s going to get a hit. And they’re loud hits, too. Every at-bat, he’s putting the barrel on the ball.”
He is, indeed, Big Bad John.
Jake Fromm’s best bud
UGASports.com recently polled Georgia baseball players to ask which teammate they’d most prefer to “be in a foxhole” with. That’s a common euphemism for who’s toughest.
Tony Locey got the most mentions. That included one from Stricklin.
“Tony Locey’s not going to wear a helmet and just go into the middle of the battle and fight,” Stricklin said with a laugh. “He’s going to be the guy that fights everybody. … Tony will jump on a grenade.”
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Locey does his fighting from the mound, and he has been mighty tough on Georgia’s opponents.
While Emerson Hancock and even hard-throwing freshman Cole Wilcox might garner more headlines for the Georgia pitchers, it has been the 6-3, 235-pound Locey who has been the most reliable. He has eaten up 81.1 innings as a weekend starter for the Bulldogs and leads the team with a 10-1 record. At times, Locey struggles with control and he has a team-high 43 walks. But he just finds a way to get batters out, as opponents’ .160 batting average attests.
Locey’s performance this season has raised his profile as a pro prospect and also helped him make a name for himself on UGA’s campus. To date, he’s been best known as Jake Fromm’s roommate. The two of them have been best buddies since they both played baseball at Houston County High. They’re roommates at Georgia.
“We play pool every night at the house,” Locey told reporters. “We’ve got a pool table and a ping pong table, so we do a lot of that. A lot of competing going on there.”
Not too long ago, Locey said he and Fromm went to a local batting cage together.
“Nothing’s changed since high school; he can’t hit,” Locey cracked. “His glory days were when he was 12.”
Fromm has done OK in football, though. And Locey’s doing pretty well at this baseball thing. He’ll be next on the mound for the Bulldogs after their game against Arkansas on Thursday.
“We’re all really good and we all three want to be the best,” Locey said of being one of the Bulldogs’ top three starters. “That’s everybody’s goal at the end of the day, to be the best. The team goal is to get to Omaha, so we all know what we have to do.”