The idea of Georgia and Georgia Tech playing a clean, old-fashioned weekend baseball series — the only true way to prove one’s metal-bat mettle — has been only about six decades overdue.
No longer the sporadic, mid-week meetings with both teams’ aces held in reserve for something more meaningful. This would be one concentrated weekend between rivals, in which everyone’s best would be on full display and two ranked teams would submit to a complete early-season exam.
One which Georgia passed rather spectacularly. The Bulldogs best was a whole lot better than Tech’s at this very preliminary stage.
The No. 4 Bulldogs (11-1) finished off a sweep of the No. 17 Yellow Jackets (7-4) with a 9-3 victory Sunday afternoon at Gwinnett’s Coolray Field. Doesn’t matter the stage, Georgia dominated. Playing in three counties in three days — only 156 more to go and they’d have the whole state covered — the Bulldogs swept by a combined score of 27-8.
Georgia coach Scott Stricklin, who really might be onto something now that he’s done taking his lumps and has a team that’s all grown up, was well and truly pleased.
“This is the best team we’ve played — Georgia Tech is a very good team, a legit Top 25 ballclub,” Stricklin said, speaking kindly of a rival. “We knew we’d have to play well to win this series. I thought (Saturday, a 12-0 victory) was the best game that we played all year long and today was, I think, our second-best game. I thought we played really well today.”
Conversely, the Yellow Jackets venerable Danny Hall had a more somber message for his baseball undergrads.
“Basically, you failed the test,” Hall said when asked his message to his team. “We knew it was going to be a good test. They’re playing at a high level right now. We’ve got to pitch better. We’ve got to eliminate the walks. That’s got to kind of get rectified. We’ve got to play better defense. You look at the weekend — they got a lot of two-out hits, we got very few of ’em. They probably got a lot more two-strike hits than we did. They just executed at a way higher level in all phases of the game, and we did not.”
Looking a Georgia, you see a team that is experienced up and down the lineup. The Bulldogs have two starters, Emerson Hancock and Cole Wilcox, who are presumptive first-round draft picks. They got a junior in Tucker Bradley who was hitting .429 coming into Sunday, and only improved upon it by going 3-for-5. They are dependable, like the well-seasoned iron skillet. “Old guys figure it out and old guys don’t panic,” Stricklin said.
Tech started three freshmen in the field and one on the mound Sunday, so plenty of room to grow up. In all Sunday, Yellow Jacket pitchers offered up seven wild pitches (four from 6-6, 270-pound freshman starter Zack Maxwell). They also issued seven walks.
That was the special thing about the first weekend series between these teams in 61 years – it really gives a telling read on their personalities and their potential.
“I think it’s great,” Stricklin said of facing Tech for a series over a single weekend rather than individual games scattered between in-conference series later in the season. Of course he does, look at the results. But, for the record, Hall liked it this way, too.
“I think it’s great for our fans,” Striklin added. “The top arms go head to head. You’re seeing both teams at their best on the weekend. On Tuesday sometimes, you get done playing LSU and they get done playing Miami, you’re pitching staff might be depleted going into that Tuesday. Now everyone comes in full strength. I think it’s great for the fans.
“The only negative is the early time of the year you don’t know what you’re getting weather-wise, but all of us agree it’s a good thing.” Sunday was a sunny day in the mid-50s, so no meteorological complaints.
The Bulldogs left the home park of the Triple-A Stripers feeling quite major league about themselves. They need all the running start they can get. For when they enter SEC play in mid-March two of their first three series are against the No. 1- (Florida) and No. 2-ranked (Vanderbilt) teams in the country.
“We’re building up to that,” Stricklin said, looking down the road. “The first two weekends I don’t think we played great. We played good enough to win but we didn’t play great baseball. I felt like if we had played Georgia Tech last weekend, we might lose that series — nothing against Santa Clara, they’re a good team, but Georgia Tech is the best team we’ve played. We stepped up our game a little bit.
“It’s gonna be a challenge for us. But we got a bunch of older guys. I don’t think anyone is going to be intimidated by it. We just know it’s going to be a big challenge.”
It’s a long time between one wintertime blowout series against Georgia Tech and June’s College World Series. But Sunday left no reason to downgrade any expectation of the Bulldogs making a real push in that direction.
And their coach is not going to back away from such expectations. “Our pitching staff is our strength. I think we play really good defense. And we’re a tough lineup to pitch to,” Stricklin said. “I think we’ve got a chance to be a really good baseball team.”
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