In a season that has not thus far proved satisfying for either team, Georgia got the reprieve Tuesday night. In the first meeting of the season, Georgia defeated archrival Georgia Tech 5-1 at Foley Field.
The Yellow Jackets were powerless against the Bulldogs, scraping together a season-low four hits (all singles) and striking out 15 times. Tech (16-15) has lost four in a row, while Georgia (15-19) rebounded from a weekend series loss against Missouri.
“I mean, it’s Georgia Tech,” said UGA second baseman Will Proctor, who doubled in a run in the eighth inning. “We hate them.”
Tech fell behind in the first inning and never challenged after. The trouble began with leadoff hitter Tucker Maxwell when left fielder Chase Murray couldn’t hold on to a foul pop-up against the Georgia bullpen fence. Given another chance, Maxwell doubled off starter Jonathan Huges on the 11th pitch of the at-bat. Hughes walked No. 3 hitter Cam Shepherd and then gave up a single to right to cleanup man Keegan McGovern.
Right fielder Coleman Poje’s throw to the plate was slightly up the first-base line, but ahead of Maxwell, running from second. But Maxwell scored when his hard slide knocked the ball out of catcher Joey Bart’s glove. Tech coach Danny Hall removed Hughes one pitch into the next at-bat for Jared Datoc, who gave up a double and a run-scoring groundout that pushed the lead to 3-0.
Had the pop-up been caught or the play at the plate been made, “then you’ve got a chance, but we didn’t do it,” Hall said.
Hughes (1-2) took the loss, continuing a difficult season. Hughes came to campus in 2015 as one of Hall’s mostly highly touted signees. Drafted in the second round out of Flowery Branch High by Baltimore, he chose Tech over a signing bonus likely in the mid-to-high six-figure range. However, he suffered a season-ending elbow injury five starts into his freshman season last year.
His ERA after eight starts is now 5.92. In his past three starts, he has lasted a total of 4.1 innings with 10 hits, nine walks and nine earned runs.
“I feel for him because he’s working his rear end off,” Hall said. “We just cannot get his command where it needs to be. We feel like it’s got a chance to get there. It’s just not getting there as fast as he wants or as fast as we want.”
UGA freshman Zac Kristofak (2-1) pitched the first three innings on a staff day and was credited with the win. Kristofak skated through three innings in just 15 pitches, giving up just two hits. He has now pitched 13 consecutive scoreless innings.
Georgia’s six pitchers — Kristofak, Kevin Smith, Shane Tucker, Adam Goodman, Drew Moody and Blake Cairnes — permitted just two Tech runners to third base. The first, Bart, needed a single, balk and a passed ball to get there before getting stranded. The second, Murray, walked, stole second and scored on an error for Tech’s only run.
Tech batters consistently fell behind in the count on their way to 15 strikeouts.
“I didn’t really expect that, but they’re a team that likes to swing the bat,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “They’ve got a lot power in that lineup. Anytime you have a team with a lot of power they’re going to swing and miss sometimes just because they’re very aggressive.
Stricklin’s first four seasons in Athens have not been glorious — he is 94-106-1 — but he has held his own against the Jackets. The Bulldogs are now 5-4 against the Jackets in his tenure, including a series win last year. Stricklin played for Hall at Kent State and then coached for him at Tech before his first head-coaching job, also at Kent State.
Stricklin and Hall are good friends, but don’t talk much during the season, saving it for the offseason.
“Once the game starts, it’s Georgia-Georgia Tech,” Stricklin said. “It’s a huge rivalry and everybody wants to win, then we shake hands when it’s over.”
Georgia will be at No. 19 Arkansas (Baseball America) for a three-game series starting Thursday.
Tech is weathering an uncharacteristically rough spell. The Jackets’ 16-15 record is Tech’s worst after 31 games in Hall’s 24 seasons. Tech has been waylaid by a combination of injuries, rigorous schedule and poor control on the mound.
And now the hitting is going awry. In getting swept at Notre Dame this past weekend, the Jackets hit .229 and struck out 26 times. Hall said his team is chasing a lot of pitches out of the strike zone.
“I think there’s always peaks and valleys but we’re definitely in a valley and the only way we can get out of it is keep working hard, stay positive and trust in our guys,” he said. “I know all those guys can hit and you hope that they get out of it quickly.”
It won’t get easier. Tech will play No. 2 Louisville (consensus) at home in a Thursday-Saturday series.
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