History often repeats itself, and it did again Sunday night for the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs dedicated their entire season to avenging what happened here this time last year. That was losing to Duke to get bounced from their own regional despite coming in with a national seed.
Well, it happened again, with Florida State filling the role as spoiler and Georgia — a No. 4 seed — going out as an even bigger favorite. The Seminoles, who barely got into the NCAA field with a 36-win season and entered as a 3 seed, defeated the Bulldogs for the second time in as many days to claim the NCAA Athens Regional championship.
And it wasn't close, 10-1 being the final score.
"It's the same feeling being back here," junior pitcher Zac Kristofak said from the postgame podium. "If there's one takeaway it's that you never know what can happen. We felt really good about being here, but you just never know in baseball. If you don't play your best in this tournament you're not going to win. Unfortunately, we had to find that out the hard way again."
Shut out eight times during the regular season, the Seminoles won 10-1 Sunday and scored 35 runs during the regional, including 21 in two games against the Bulldogs. The majority of damage came from the bottom of the lineup. Number seven hitter Nander De Sedas was 5-for-9 in his two games against Georgia and 6 for 15 in the regional. Number nine hitter Tim Becker — a club team player at FSU last year — hit three home runs.
The theory is that the FSU might've been inspired for their retiring coach. In fact, some college baseball observers thought the Seminoles received a bid only because it was the swan song for their 40-year skipper Mike Martin. Maybe so, but with these three wins, Martin now stands just one victory away from winning for 40 games for the 40th consecutive year.
“Certainly with Coach Martin being in his last season, when I saw their name pop up, I knew it was going to be challenge,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “It was a tough draw, let alone a 3 seed. That was not a 3 seed. That was one of the top teams in the country.”
FSU leaves Athens with a 39-21 record. It will likely be traveling again to play the winner of the Baton Rouge Regional.
“To say I’m happy is an understatement,” said the 75-year-old Hall of Famer. “This is what we get out of coaching, seeing a team come together.”
Georgia’s season ends at 46-21 after winning a school-record 21 conference games to finish second in the SEC.
It was a bit of a long shot for the Bulldogs to pull this out Sunday after falling to FSU, 12-3, Saturday to fall into the loser’s bracket. The Bulldogs had to play two full nine-inning games Sunday just to extend the tournament another day. They got the day off to as good a start as possible with a, 13-0, win over Florida Atlantic that featured a complete-game effort from junior right-hander Tim Elliott.
Georgia went with hard-throwing freshman Cole Wilcox to start the nightcap. But Wilcox struggled with his control and FSU’s hot bats didn’t have a problem timing up with Wilcox’s fastball, recorded at 100-miles-an-hour this season.
Reese Albert, the Seminoles’ second batter of the day, hit a two-run home run on the fourth pitch of the game. Wilcox seemed to pitch a little too careful the rest of his stint. He was lifted trailing 5-0 in the fourth inning having walked five and striking out only one.
Zac Kristofak put out that fire with a strikeout, but he control the next one when it started up in the six inning. FSU would strike for four more in that frame to get ahead 9-0. Georgia’s Tucker Maxwell answered with a leadoff homer in the bottom half of the inning, but the Bulldogs would leave their only other runner stranded, and the rout continued.
Georgia just gave the visitors too many chances. A record-setting fielding team coming in (.981), the Bulldogs had three errors Sunday against Seminoles. They never had more than two errors in any game all season.
“Our guys play in big games in our conference every weekend,” Stricklin said. “It was just one of those games, one of those games. We made all the plays earlier today. For whatever reason we just didn’t play great today.”
After improving its record by 14 games last year to earn a No. 8 national seed, Georgia improved by another six games this season and earned a No. 4 seed. And this was a young team. The Bulldogs will lose only second baseman L.J. Talley to graduation among position players and most of the junior group should return. The exceptions there are star third baseman Aaron Schunk and starting pitcher Tony Locey. Elliott and a few other juniors will have tougher decisions to make.
“I want to tell everybody how much I enjoyed coaching this particular team,” Stricklin said. “It’s an unbelievable group, a high-character group, kids who worked so hard and overcame a lot. We had a ton of injuries this year, but guys just kept stepping up one after another. Just so enjoyable to be around every day and a fun team to watch.
“I just hate that it ended that way.”
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