5 observations from No. 15 UGA’s win over Georgia Tech

UGA and Georgia Tech took its rivalry to the baseball diamond Tuesday at SunTrust Park. Here's a quick breakdown of the game - find the complete breakdown on ajc.com. (Video by Leo Willingham)

No. 15 Georgia’s domination of Georgia Tech is complete for a second consecutive season. The Bulldogs completed their second consecutive sweep of the Yellow Jackets on Tuesday night at SunTrust Park with a 3-1 win.

The Bulldogs have won six in a row and nine of the past 10 in the series. UGA last won six in a row over its archrival between March 1985 and April 1987.

“To a lot of our fans, this is the biggest game of the year,” UGA coach Scott Stricklin said. “Forget Florida, forget Arkansas, it’s Georgia Tech. And for us to play the way we’ve played against them the last two years, it’s great for our program. It’s just amazing how well we’ve played against Georgia Tech.”

On Tuesday, Georgia (34-14) completed the sweep by limiting Tech (27-22) to five hits and playing airtight defense. Starter C.J. Smith (1-0) was credited with the win by going five innings and giving up just two hits and no walks and allowing one run. Tech starter Tristin English (2-3) gave up three runs in five innings to take the loss.

“I hate it,” Tech coach Danny Hall said of the sweep. “It’s not good. Nobody likes it. Give them credit. They beat us three in a row.”

Attendance for the annual fundraiser for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta was 17,741.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. How the game was won for Georgia

Aaron Schunk opened the bottom of the fourth with a home run to left center off English, just the third of his career in 322 at-bats, for a 1-0 lead. Five batters later, Mason Meadows hit a slicing line drive with two out into the left-center gap. Center fielder Nick Wilhite, a standout defender, made a diving bid for the liner to end the inning, but came up just short. The ball bounced past him, allowing two runs to score.

“Mason just finds a way,” Stricklin said. “Somehow, someway.”

The three-run inning proved enough for the Bulldogs. Schunk’s home run was not the first such sling that has felled the Jackets in this series this season. In Georgia’s win at Russ Chandler Stadium on May 8, No. 9 hitter Tucker Maxwell popped one of only two home runs he’s hit all season in 110 at-bats.

“That’s the fun thing about this team, you never know who’s going to be that guy,” Stricklin said.

2. How the game was lost for Tech

In the top of the sixth, down 3-1, the Jackets started the inning with singles by Wade Bailey and Joey Bart to put runners on first and second. Hall made the decision to have No. 3 hitter Chase Murray, who entered the game as the ACC’s leading hitter at .376, put down a bunt to move the runners over. Hall said he mulled over whether to let Murray hit, taking into consideration the strength of reliever Tony Locey (.209 opponent batting average coming into the game).

“My gut was, let’s get ’em in scoring position, where it’s at least easier to get one in by putting the ball in play,” Hall said.

The strategy backfired when the next batter, English, a .301 hitter entering the game, struck out looking for the second out. Stricklin brought in lefty Ryan Webb to face the left-handed Kyle McCann, despite McCann’s .347 average against southpaws.

Stricklin said he was aware, “but we’ve had some success when we’ve gone lefty-lefty,” he said.

McCann yanked a deep shot that went foul before walking to load the bases. Webb then struck out Oscar Serratos to end the inning.

“It seemed like we had the right guys at the plate to try to get some guys in,” Hall said. “To their credit, they just made pitches, and we couldn’t do it.”

3. Stark differences in series averages

Tech reached the end of the series feeling like a hit here and a bounce there could have changed the outcome of each game, starting in the first inning of the 4-0 loss in Athens on April 3, when catcher Joey Bart hit a deep shot down the left-field line that was ruled a foul ball. Hall called for a replay review, believing it was fair and should have been ruled a two-run home run, but the call was not overturned.

But the teams’ performance at the plate speaks to how Georgia achieved a second consecutive sweep. Over the three games, the Bulldogs hit .344 (33-for-96) to Tech’s .194 (19-for-98). With runners in scoring position, UGA hit .357 (10-for-28) and the Jackets were .095 (2-for-21).

It is one of the many differences that speak to Georgia’s turnaround this season. Last season, opponents hit .260 against the Bulldogs. This season, their average was .228 before Tuesday’s game.

“Our bullpen is our strength,” Stricklin said. “We’ve won a lot of games from that sixth inning on because our bullpen’s shutting people down.”

4. UGA’s postseason picture

Georgia continues to make its case for a top-16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would enable the Bulldogs to host their own four-team regional. A national seed – given to the top eight teams, which would give them the right to host the super regional – is even in play. A year ago, Georgia missed the postseason for the sixth consecutive season and Stricklin’s future was unclear until after the season ended.

“I think when we started (the season), we just talked to our team, ‘Hey, let’s make sure these seniors experience a regional,’” Stricklin said. “’Let’s get ’em in the postseason.’ Now we’ve gotten to a point, our RPI’s No. 4 in the country, our strength of schedule is No. 4 in the country. We’re right in the mix to be a national seed.”

5. Tech’s postseason picture

Tech, meanwhile, lost a chance to gain some ground in RPI with a win over the Bulldogs, but fell one spot to No. 47. The Jackets have seven regular-season games remaining (ACC series at Virginia and home against Duke sandwiching a game next Tuesday against Southeast Missouri State.

Hall said that, to have a chance at the NCAA Tournament, Tech needs to win both series against Virginia and Duke. Failing that, the Jackets will need to perform well in the ACC Tournament.