On a field as emerald and on a day as warm as one might hope for on the first day of March, No. 4 Georgia looked prepared for the rigors of its upcoming SEC schedule. Its opponent, No. 17 Georgia Tech, appeared as though there’s a bit of work to do to match its successes from a year ago.
In the final game of the first regular-season three-game weekend series between the archrivals since 1959, the Bulldogs completed a sweep of the Yellow Jackets with a 9-3 wipeout Sunday afternoon at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville. Georgia asserted its authority for the third day in a row by exploiting Tech’s preponderance of mistakes and scattering nine singles about the field. At the conclusion of the annual fund-raiser for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the portion of the announced crowd of 10,299 garbed in red and black observed the sweep with much barking.
» STEVE HUMMER: Bulldogs pass early season test
“You know what — coach (Scott) Stricklin talked about it at the beginning of the series and the beginning of the season,” said UGA pitcher Jonathan Cannon, a freshman who held Tech scoreless over the final 4-2/3 innings to earn the win. “Good teams win series and great teams sweep. I think that’s what we proved (Sunday) is that we’re a great team and we can compete with anybody.”
Georgia (11-1) has swept Tech (7-4) three times in the past four seasons, with the Jackets winning the series 2-1 last season. The Bulldogs have won the series — which in recent history has been played in midweek games over the course of several weeks — four of the past five years.
Sunday, as was the case in Friday’s game at Foley Field in Athens and Saturday’s at Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia didn’t need much in the way of power to subdue Tech. At Coolray Field, the Bulldogs’ two big innings — three-run frames in the bottom of the first and sixth — with nothing more forceful than a lone double. The ingredients included six walks, three wild pitches, three base hits, a hit batsman, a throwing error and a double steal.
For the game, Tech threw seven wild pitches — four by freshman starter Zach Maxwell, who went three innings and took the loss — and walked seven.
“They just executed at a way higher level in all phases of the game, and we did not,” Tech coach Danny Hall said.
Georgia has pulled off five double steals this season.
“Putting pressure on defenses, that’s what we’re trying to do,” Stricklin said. “Every chance we have, we’re trying to do it. I thought our baserunners did a really good job of getting some jumps, seeing some balls in the dirt. We knew coming in that might be an issue (with Maxwell).”
For both teams, the series provided early-season checkups after starting the season Feb. 14. Both were among the top teams in the country last year, each earning a top-four national seed in the NCAA tournament, although both were upset in the regional round at home. Georgia returned much more of its production and pitching than did Tech.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Stricklin said. “But we’ve got a bunch of older guys. I don’t think anyone is going to be intimidated by it.”
Over three games against UGA, Tech hit .216 with seven extra-base hits, all doubles. Sunday, UGA starter C.J. Smith and Cannon held Tech to six hits. In the field, a throwing error by Tech shortstop Luke Waddell was part of the Bulldogs’ three-run first, all runs scored with two outs.
Hall said that his post-game message to the team was that it had failed this early-season test, but that it can be of value so long as players learn from it. Tech’s talent drain off last year’s team was balanced by the influx of a freshman class ranked No. 4 in the country, but there are yet lessons to learn.
“They got a taste of what it’s going to be like to face a good team, good hitters, and we kind of got exposed,” Hall said of his freshman pitchers. “Just being honest.”
Both Hall and Stricklin welcomed the different format of the series. When played midweek, neither team used its top pitchers, saving them for weekend series against league competition. Tech and UGA are contracted to play again in a weekend series next season, and Hall was hopeful that the new arrangement will stay past 2021.
“I think Scott and I like this,” he said. “I’m disappointed we lost, but I do think it really tells you where your team’s at right now. We’ve got to make some adjustments.”
Said Stricklin, “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.”
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