The Houston County pitching duel didn’t last long and neither did the Mercer Bears as the Georgia Bulldogs dispatched their visitors from Middle Georgia quickly and without mercy on the way to a 13-3 win in the NCAA Athens Regional on Friday.
Had there been a mercy rule, it might’ve been invoked in the third inning when the score was 13-0 and the Bulldogs had clubbed three home runs. But, alas, there is not, so they played a full nine innings until reaching the final score.
The victory places the Georgia in the winner's bracket, where it will face third-seeded Florida State (44-19) at 7 p.m. Saturday.
With the wind blowing hard to center field Friday, the Seminoles played their own version of Long Ball Derby in the early-afternoon opener against Florida Atlantic and won 13-7 in a game that featured nine home runs, six by the Noles.
The Bulldogs (45-15) will counter FSU’s big bats with sophomore right-hander Emerson Hancock (8-2, 1.56 ERA). The Owls (40-20) will face off against Mercer at noon Saturday in an elimination game.
Mercer arrived in Athens having won five consecutive to come out of the loser's bracket and win the Southern Conference tournament in Greenville, S.C. The Bears also had won four of its past five games against Georgia, the last win coming in 2017.
But Georgia squashed any notion of an upset very quickly. The Bulldogs' first five batters reached against Mercer starter Tanner Hall (8-6), including Aaron Schunk, who clubbed his first home run of the night. Georgia would bat around, with leadoff hitter Tucker Maxwell hitting a grand slam his second time at the plate. That staked the Bulldogs to an 8-0 lead.
Hall was the teammate of Georgia starter Tony Locey -- and UGA quarterback Jake Fromm -- when the two pitchers helped Houston County win a state baseball championship in 2016.
Locey’s night started markedly different. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior gave up a leadoff hit. But with 11 pro baseball scouts lined up in the concourse behind home plate with their radar guns trained on his pitches, Locey struck out the next five batters in a row. He went on to strike out two more against one walk and left the game in the fifth inning holding a 13-0 lead.
Locey improved to 11-2 on the season, and the Bulldogs improved to 14-1 in games that he has started this season.
The NCAA was the big winner in Friday’s results. The outcome sets up another anticipated postseason matchup between Georgia and FSU, and Seminoles' skipper Mike Martin has been around for pretty much all of them. The storied programs have battled seven times in NCAA regionals, with the Bulldogs winning four of them.
The Seminoles won the last matchup in 2009, but Georgia beat them 3-2 in the 2006 Athens Super Regional to advance to College World Series.
Martin, a Hall of Fame coach, has announced that he's retiring at the season's end. This is his 40th at FSU.
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