No. 20 Georgia made the key plays, Georgia Tech did not, and for a fifth consecutive game, the Bulldogs beat the Yellow Jackets.
Following its win in Athens on April 3, Georgia took the season series from Tech by claiming an 8-3 win Wednesday night on a breezy evening at Russ Chandler Stadium. Georgia (28-13) broke open a 1-1 score with three in the sixth and put the game away with another three-run inning in the eighth. Zac Kristofak (3-1) was awarded the win for Georgia, while Tech starter Brant Hurter (4-3) took the defeat. Tech (22-20) recorded 10 hits, but failed to generate an extra-base hit.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Bulldogs streaking
Georgia’s five-game win streak in the series is the longest streak for either team since the Bulldogs won six in a row in 1985-87. Further, the Bulldogs have won eight of the past nine against Tech and has won the season series three years in a row.
“It’s your archrival,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “It’s a big game, and we’ve got the game circled on our schedule every year just like they do, and our fans have it (circled) just like their fans do. They’re big games. One of our goals every year is to make sure we win this series, and we’ve been able to do it, and for whatever reason, we’ve played really well.”
The series closes May 8 with the annual benefit game for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, held for the second year at SunTrust Park.
2. When the game was decided
In the top of the sixth, with the score tied at 1-1, Georgia loaded the bases with an infield single, a single through the hole and a hit by pitch. Mason Meadows drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to right. On a two-out, 3-2 pitch, L.J. Talley hit a line drive that Hurter tipped, preventing a play to be made and scoring Aaron Schunk. Tucker Maxwell, who tied the score at 1-1 with a home run in the fifth, doubled for a 4-1 lead.
“If (Hurter) wouldn’t have tipped it off his glove, they probably would have got it because (shortstop Nick Wilhite) was playing right behind him, so it worked out for the best,” Talley said.
Talley later helped put the game to bed in the top of the eighth by smoking Joseph Mannelly’s 3-1 pitch over the right-field fence for a two-run homer and a 7-2 lead. Talley and Maxwell, UGA’s Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, respectively, drove in five of the Bulldogs’ runs. They had hit a combined three home runs in 194 at-bats this season before both going deep against Tech.
“Me and Maxwell have been struggling lately, so it’s just good to put a couple good swings on balls and help our team win,” Talley said.
3. Tough outs
Georgia persevered at the plate, picking up five of its 14 hits on 0-2 counts and driving in four runs with two outs. The Bulldogs were 5-for-12 with two outs.
“Our kids were really battling, and that’s one of the things that we talked about, is just make sure that you give yourself an opportunity when you have two strikes,” Stricklin said. “And the way you do that is just think about hitting the ball through the middle. And we got some pitches up in the zone to hit on 0-2 and I thought we took some really good two-strike swings.”
Tech, meanwhile, put the leadoff hitter on base five times but was 2-for-9 with runner in scoring position and stranded 10 runners. The Jackets seemed bound to their fate in the first inning, when cleanup hitter Tristin English came to the plate with runners at first and third and one out against freshman starter C.J. Smith. English ripped a 3-2 pitch back up the middle, but Smith managed to glove the line drive and then doubled up Joey Bart off first to end the inning.
“You’d like to think that you’ve got a chance to maybe have a big inning right out of the gate, and that didn’t happen,” Tech coach Danny Hall said. “It was kind of that way most of the night.”
4. NCAA bid approaching
Georgia improved its positioning for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011. The Bulldogs improved to No. 5 in RPI with the win, according to warrennolan.com.
“I think it’s OK to talk about (the tournament),” Stricklin said. “We haven’t been able to talk about it in a long time, so it’s OK to talk about it.”
Stricklin, in his fifth season in Athens, actually held a class for the team earlier in the season to explain the intricacies of the RPI formula and how winning midweek games was critical to making the tournament. The Bulldogs are now 10-1 in non-weekend games.
“You can’t take ’em lightly, no matter who you play, whether we play Charleston Southern like we did in the middle of the year or playing Georgia Tech now,” Talley said. “They all mean the same. (Stricklin) is talking to us about our RPI and ‘This is a good RPI team,’ so it’s a good win to come on the road and get.”
5. Aggravating stretch for Jackets
Hall made no attempt to hide his frustration over the outcome.
“Very disappointed just in everything,” he said. “We didn’t play good enough to win, they definitely did. We weren’t really good at any phase of the game here (Wednesday).”
The Jackets reached 20-13 after a series win over then-No. 6 Florida State and a road win over Mercer. Since then, Tech is 2-7, including road series losses at Pittsburgh and then-No. 8 North Carolina.
“We’ve got three (ACC) series left,” Hall said. “We need to win every one of them.”
In the past nine games, the bullpen has an ERA of 7.41 and the Jackets are hitting .269. Hall seemed at a loss about the bullpen, which against Georgia gave up four runs in the final three innings after a solid start by Hurter. Hall was anticipating a series against Radford on May 4-6 to give the coaching staff a chance “to rethink how we’re pitching guys and maybe what roles are” – not the sort of conversation he wants to be having near the end of the regular season.