Georgia pitcher Aaron Schunk (22) celebrates with teammates after they defeated Arkansas 3-1 in a Southeastern Conference tournament NCAA college baseball game Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Photo: Butch Dill/AP
Photo: Butch Dill/AP

Bulldogs advance to semifinals in SEC baseball tournament

Georgia spent all season avoiding drama. But after its first two games in the SEC Tournament, it seems like the Bulldogs might actually enjoy a little postseason theater. 

After winning Wednesday night’s game on Cam Shepherd’s two-out, two-run, ninth-inning homer, Georgia (44-14) scored all of its runs in the seventh and eighth innings Thursday for a come-from-behind 3-1 victory over Arkansas (41-16) in the third round in Hoover, Ala. 

After Bulldogs left-hander Ryan Webb recorded two outs in the ninth inning, Aaron Schunk took the mound with a runner on first and the tying run at the plate. He gave up another single to put runners at the corners, then came back from a 3-0 count with three incredible sliders to strike out freshman Ryan Nesbit and record his 12th save of the season. 

The Bulldogs (44-14) remain in the winner’s bracket, advance to the semifinals and get a day off Friday in the second year of the SEC’s single-elimination weekend format.

Junior Tony Locey (10-1, 2.55 ERA) would be the scheduled starter, but UGA coach Scott Stricklin said the Bulldogs will take a day to decide what’s best. Ace pitcher Emerson Hancock (8-2, 1.31) is still available as well and his starts have been falling on Saturdays. 

“Everything we do now will have next week (and the NCAA regionals) in mind,” Stricklin said. 

Georgia's Cam Shepherd (7) and Aaron Schunk (22) celebrate after scoring the go ahead runs on a double by Patrick Sullivan during the eighth inning of the team's Southeastern Conference tournament NCAA college baseball game against Arkansas, Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Photo: Butch Dill/AP

Coming into the tournament No. 3 in RPI, the Bulldogs were already assured of a national seed.

After avoiding close calls most of the season, the Bulldogs have come from behind to win both of their SEC tourney games. Georgia has never won the tournament and hadn’t won a game in the tournament since 2011. 

But they seem to be on a run. 

“Trophies are good,” Stricklin said. “That’s what you’ve got trophy cases for.” 

Connor Tate, clutch in his pinch-hitter role all season, came though again in the seventh with a double that scored Shepherd and tied the game 1-1. 

In the eighth, a leadoff double by Schunk was followed by a groundout to L.J. Talley and a strikeout by John Cable. Patrick Sullivan made the Razorbacks pay for an intentional walk to Shepherd with a bloop double down the line in left to plate both runners. 

“I got lucky, but I’ll take it,” Sullivan said with a laugh. 

Unknown at the time was that Schunk, Georgia’s third baseman and closer, had snuck down to the bullpen to thrown 10 quick warm-up pitches before his at-bat. That, too, paid off, as Schunk knew he had his breaking stuff working. 

“It’s about being ready at all times,” Schunk said. “When it hits the fan you’ve got to be ready to go.” 

Stricklin wasn’t sure what he was going to have his team do with a rare day off during a tournament. 

“Lift weights, go to the gym, maybe a little cage work,” he said. “Pretty much I’ll probably just give them the day off. They certainly deserve it.”

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