Georgia’s season to this point has been a largely forgettable assembly of 42 games, but the Bulldogs can find satisfaction from two in particular, including one played Tuesday night. Georgia used two fruitful turns at bat and an effective start from Kevin Smith to defeat Georgia Tech 7-5 at Russ Chandler Stadium. The win clinched the season series for the Bulldogs for the second season in a row.
The Bulldogs, last in the SEC in ERA (5.11 coming into Tuesday’s game), have now held Tech to six runs in their two wins. Georgia beat the Jackets 5-1 April 11 in Athens. Georgia will go for the sweep in the series finale at SunTrust Park May 9. The Bulldogs have not swept Tech in a season series of more than two games since 1984.
“That’s disappointing,” Tech coach Danny Hall said of Tuesday’s loss. “This is a huge game for Georgia Tech fans and for us, so to lose it – just disappointing.”
Five observations from the game:
Bulldogs come through, Jackets don’t
Georgia scored all of its runs with two outs. Tech, meanwhile, collected 11 hits, but had a runner thrown out at third and stranded seven runners, five in scoring position.
“It’s clutch hitting, and something that’s not always been there for us this year,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “We’ve been up and down. There’s no secret to that, but that was a good baseball team that played (Tuesday night). Really proud of those guys to win that game.”
After falling behind 4-0 in the top of the fourth, the Jackets scored single runs in the fourth and fifth, squandering opportunities to make up more ground. In the bottom of the eighth, down 6-3, Joey Bart led off with a single but cleanup hitter Kel Johnson hit a hard shot off reliever Zac Kristofak that turned into a 6-3 double play. Stricklin called it a turning point.
“That’s kind of the way it went for us the whole night,” Hall said.
In the bottom of the ninth, down 7-3, the Jackets loaded the bases with none out before reliever Drew Moody retired the next three batters to end the game.
Smith (2-4) was the Bulldogs’ opening-day starter, but uneven performances relegated him to the bullpen and midweek starts. He was on the mark Tuesday, giving up one run on five hits and one walk in four innings before being taken out to save his arm. Stricklin will move him back into the weekend rotation, scheduling him for a start Sunday against top-15 Florida.
“He’s been like that a lot,” Stricklin said of his performance Tuesday. “But he has had some tough outings, but he’s probably our most talented guy on the mound.”
Walks got Tech starter Ben Schniederjans in trouble in the top of the fourth. After keeping Georgia off the scoreboard through three innings, Schniederjans gave up back-to-back one-out walks. After a flyout to right for the second out, L.J. Talley singled to right, and Keegan McGovern slid home just ahead of right fielder Coleman Poje’s throw for Georgia’s first run.
With the inning extended, Schniederjans walked Will Proctor after starting out 0-2, leading Hall to take him out for Jake Lee, who gave up back-to-back singles that pushed the lead to 4-0.
Tech has given up the most walks in the ACC with 204 in 40 games.
“It’s kind of what I told the team – we kind of went back to our old ways of walking guys,” Hall said.
Schniederjans, who was dominant last week with seven shutout innings against Georgia State, took the loss and is 2-4.
With two out and one on in the top of the seventh and the Bulldogs ahead 4-2, Georgia catcher Michael Curry delivered a game-changing moment, dumping a 1-0 changeup from Tech reliever Jared Datoc over the center-field fence for a two-run home run and a 6-2 lead. Hall had brought in Datoc, who has been one of the Jackets’ best relievers, specifically to face the dangerous Curry.
“He got it up (in the strike zone), and to Curry’s credit, he didn’t miss it,” Hall said.
Curry, an All-SEC candidate, now has nine home runs this season and is hitting .337.
Looking at their seasons
Georgia (17-25) has lost series to five of six SEC opponents as well as the College of Charleston and Rider, but can now claim a series win for the second year over the Jackets.
“It has been tough; it really has been,” Stricklin said. “But when you’re starting as many young guys as we’re starting, we knew we’d have some ups and downs, but all in all, our kids are still playing hard. The effort’s been there.”
Tech (20-20) is in danger of its first sub-.500 record in Hall’s 24 seasons. Coming into the game, Tech had won four of its past five to keep alive its dim hopes of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team.
“We need to go play well,” Hall said. “For us to win, we have to be good in all three phases, have to pitch it well, have to hit well, we have to play defense.”