Clean old-fashioned power on display in Georgia-Georgia Tech baseball series

Hairy Dawg, Buzz, and Chopper come together at Coolray Field for the 20th Spring Classic game, UGA vs Georgia Tech, March 5, 2023. Jamie Spaar for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Hairy Dawg, Buzz, and Chopper come together at Coolray Field for the 20th Spring Classic game, UGA vs Georgia Tech, March 5, 2023. Jamie Spaar for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia coach Wes Johnson was asked this week how he would pitch to Charlie Condon if he were an opposing coach.

“I’d just do this,” the Bulldogs’ first-year skipper said, holding up four fingers to indicate he’d walk him.

He was joking, of course, but Johnson will be facing a similar quandary this weekend when Georgia (8-1) faces archrival Georgia Tech in their annual three-game series. The Yellow Jackets (7-1) are powered by a player who might just be Condon’s equal when it comes to the art of hitting a baseball.

Freshman Drew Burress, Tech’s leadoff hitter, leads the nation with nine home runs. Four of those came Tuesday as Burress established the school’s single-game record in four at-bats in a 10-0, run-rule win over Georgia State.

“I expect to go out there and hit a home run every time,” Burress said after the game. “It sounds over the top, but when I go out there, that is what I’m expected to do.”

Burress’s four dingers came two days before Georgia’s Condon hit three homers in one game Thursday night against Michigan State. The Bulldogs happened to lose for the first time all season in the game, but Condon’s 3-for-4 night continued one of the more astonishing hitting streaks to start a season in school history.

Not only does Condon have nine-game hitting streak, the sophomore from Marietta has had multi-hits in every one of those games. He enters the weekend second in the nation with a .639 batting average. Condon also leads the country in slugging at 1.417 and ranks third with a .696 on-base average.

Burress is one of only a few players nationwide who can come close to matching that stat line. A 5-foot-9, 182-pound outfielder, Burress is batting .441 and slugging 1.382 with a .512 on-base rate and 20 RBIs.

In summary, there might not be two better offensive players facing off in a game anywhere in the country this weekend. Considering that Burress bats leadoff for Tech and Condon hits No. 2 in the Bulldogs’ lineup, it’s unlikely they can be given free passes every time up.

“It’ll be a great challenge all the way around,” Tech coach Danny Hall said of facing the Bulldogs. “It’s a three-game series that’ll be very much like an ACC weekend. It’s early, but we should know after Sunday where we’re at with everything about our team.”

Tech and Georgia will renew one of the most-competed rivalries in college athletics when they meet three times over the weekend. The first game is at 6 p.m. Friday on Tech’s campus (ACC Network). The teams will play at 2 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network) in Athens at Foley Field. Sunday will be the annual “Spring Classic for Kids” matchup at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville (3 p.m.). Proceeds benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets enter the weekend having played each other 389 times since the first meeting in 1898 in Athens. Georgia leads the series 218-169-2.

Tech and Georgia have conducted their baseball rivalry all kinds ways over the years. For a long time, they played four times every year, with two home and two away. For a while they limited it to two mid-week games played in different weeks later in the spring.

Since 2003, they’ve incorporated a neutral-site game to benefit CHOA. Since 2020, the Tech-Georgia games have been conducted early in the season on a single weekend. However, they did not play the 2021 neutral-site game because of COVID-19 protocols.

“I think it’s one of the best things we do all year,” Hall said. “To see some of those kids have been going through battles at a young age and to realize we’re helping raise money that’s going to benefit them and their families, there’s nothing better than that.”

Friday will be Johnson’s first taste of the rivalry known throughout the South as “Clean Old-Fashioned Hate.” It will be for a number of players in both dugouts, as well, as each roster is populated with transfers and first-year players.

Johnson was still stinging from seeing his team lose to Michigan State 19-6 at Foley Field on Wednesday when he was asked about wading into the rivalry for a first time.

“I don’t know. I hope the players don’t make too much of it,” said Johnson, who came to UGA from LSU. “I think our job as coaches and players is to keep the game here (lowering his hand toward the ground). (Rivalries) are for fans. Don’t get me wrong, but you’ve just got to get 27 outs and score more runs than they do.”

Scoring runs is what makes this weekend’s matchup so interesting. The Yellow Jackets are averaging 9.5 per game while hitting .321 as a team. Georgia averages 10.7 an outing while hitting .337 as a team. The teams have hit 50 home runs between them.

Charged with limiting another offensive barrage are left-hander Charlie Goldstein (2-0, 2.00 ERA), who will get the start for the Bulldogs, and Tech junior left-hander Camron Hill (2-1, 1.50). Each of them knows job one will be keeping No. 8 for the Jackets and No. 24 for the Bulldogs off base.

Or, perhaps, just putting them on.

“Every hitter, as in every pitcher, has a hole,” said Johnson, who coached major-league pitchers for three seasons. “Every big-league hitter has a hole (in his swing). Charlie Condon has a hole. Everybody has a hole. Your job as a pitcher is to get into that hole. But there’s nobody who can cover everything. Nobody ever has been able to and nobody ever will.”

Georgia Tech's Drew Burress

Credit: GT Athletics/Danny Karnik

icon to expand image

Credit: GT Athletics/Danny Karnik

Georgia first baseman and outfielder Charlie Condon (24), here against Kentucky at Foley Field, is a national freshman of the year candidate. (Kari Hodges/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Kari Hodges

icon to expand image

Credit: Kari Hodges