One big inning for Georgia and a complete shutdown at the plate for Georgia Tech led to an increasingly familiar result. The No. 17 Bulldogs beat the Yellow Jackets 4-0 on Tuesday night at Foley Field, the fourth consecutive win for UGA in the series and the seventh win in the past eight meetings.
“That’s our rival,” said Georgia coach Scott Stricklin, who played and coached for Tech coach Danny Hall. “It’s a huge game every single time we play. All of our guys know their guys. Obviously, I’m very familiar with their coaching staff, so it’s big.”
Georgia struck for three runs in the bottom of the seventh to push the lead to the final 4-0, which was more than sufficient. Short three starters because of injuries, the Jackets were able to manage four hits and two walks despite entering the game with a .393 on-base percentage.
1. A peculiar beginning
In the top of the first, Tech catcher Joey Bart’s fence-clearing drive down the left-field line was ruled a foul, prompting Hall to ask for a video review. The call was upheld after a lengthy review. Later, Chase Murray was called safe tagging up from third, but Stricklin requested his own video review, and the on-field call was overturned, giving the Bulldogs a double play to end the top half of the first.
“Maybe with a better replay (angle), it’s 2-0 right out of the gate and now they’re on their heels because that had to be awfully close,” Hall said. “Our guys in the bullpen thought it was fair, but my understanding is there was not a real good angle to see it, so they’ve got to go with what they saw.”
In the bottom of the third inning, Georgia’s Tucker Maxwell reached with a bunt single, but then was called out for runner’s interference in the next at-bat for apparently getting in the way of second baseman Wade Bailey, even though Bailey didn’t appear to be hindered and didn’t actually field the ball.
Both teams appeared to have some difficulty adapting to the strike zone called by home-plate umpire Danny Everett.
“We had a bunch of delays early, and I guess some funky calls and trying to get the call right,” Hall said. “I love the replay, though, because I think it gives them a chance to get the call right.”
Conferences have been able to use video replay in the regular season since the 2017 season.
2. Dominant pitching performance
Georgia’s pitching staff piled up 14 strikeouts, which was Tech’s season high. UGA reliever Kevin Smith picked up a career-high nine in only 4 1/3 innings, often baiting Jackets batters into waving at pitches out of the strike zone.
“He’s a tough angle on lefties, and he had a good slider tonight, threw a lot of them for strikes,” Hall said of Smith, a left-hander. “You tip your cap to him; he threw the ball real well.”
For Georgia, it was another solid pitching performance in a season in which Stricklin’s staff has been significantly improved from last season. Georgia was last in the SEC in ERA last season at 5.03, but went into Tuesday’s game with an ERA of 3.52, eighth in the conference.
In Georgia’s past six games, the Bulldogs are 5-1 and have won four by shutout. Stricklin gave credit to first-year pitching coach Sean Kenny, hired from Michigan.
“Our guys are very confident in him,” Stricklin said of Kenny. “They believe in him. They trust in him.”
Tech was shut out for the first time this season, this on the heels of a three-game sweep of Miami this past weekend when the Jackets scored 23 runs.
3. Bulldogs on a roll
Georgia (22-7) is in good position to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011 and also the first in Strickin’s tenure, now in its fifth season. At the end of last season, Stricklin’s future was uncertain to the point that athletic director Greg McGarity had to inform him that he would be retained.
After starting the season 7-5, the Bulldogs have won 15 of 17, taking series from Alabama, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
“We’ve got a good team,” Stricklin said. “We’ve got talent on this team, and they’ve been through the ringer and now they believe that they’re really talented and we’ve got a good clubhouse. When you start believing that you’re good and you’ve got talent and experience, you can be a dangerous team.”
Stricklin pointed to the 13th game of the season, which followed his decision to take Smith out of the starting rotation and put him in the bullpen. He said Smith was not happy at first, but came to embrace his new role and helped the Bulldogs beat The Citadel, ending a four-game losing streak and starting a five-game winning streak.
“He accepted that role, and he has been huge for us during this stretch,” Stricklin said.
4. When the game was decided
Tech freshman Brant Hurter kept Tech (17-13) in the game, giving up one run through six innings before the defense wobbled behind him in the seventh. After L.J. Talley singled to open the bottom of the seventh, Mason Meadows and Maxwell both reached base after trying to put down sacrifice bunts, loading the bases. After a force-out at the plate for Georgia’s first out, Hall removed Hurter for Jared Datoc, who gave up three singles to score three runs. One of them was a misplayed grounder to first.
“You play good teams, you’ve got to take advantage and get the outs when you can get ’em,” Hall said. “We just didn’t do it.”
“Late in the game, a lot of bats came through, had some really big AB’s and stuff,” said UGA DH Michael Curry, who drove in the final run of the inning for a 4-0 lead. “We just did our jobs, bottom line.”
Hurter took the loss, going 6 1/3 innings with seven hits and three runs allowed, all earned.
“Brant Hurter’s got a big future in front of him, and it was tough on our hitters, “ Stricklin said.
5. Stunning play behind the plate
The best pro prospect on the field, Bart, made a remarkable play that only added to his reputation as the top catcher in the coming draft. In the bottom of the eighth, Bart threw out Patrick Sullivan trying to steal second. He did so throwing off his back foot, in the manner of a quarterback throwing into a pass rush, as he was trying to get clear of the batter.
Bart, who came into the game hitting .352 with eight home runs in 108 at-bats and a .620 slugging percentage, went 2-for-4 and had Tech’s only extra-base hit, a double.
“He’s a great player,” Hall said of Bart.