College baseball’s top players collide in Georgia-Florida series

Georgia’s Charlie Condon and Florida’s Zac Caglianone in the spotlight
Georgia third baseman Charlie Condon (24) warms-up before their game against Vanderbilt at Foley Field, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Athens, Ga. Condon hit his 31st and NCAA leading home run Friday night. No. 19-ranked Georgia defeated No. 13 Vanderbilt 10-0. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Georgia third baseman Charlie Condon (24) warms-up before their game against Vanderbilt at Foley Field, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Athens, Ga. Condon hit his 31st and NCAA leading home run Friday night. No. 19-ranked Georgia defeated No. 13 Vanderbilt 10-0. (Jason Getz / AJC)

ATHENS — No. 6 Georgia (38-12, 16-11 SEC) plays host to Florida (26-25, 11-16) on Thursday for the first of three games at Foley Field that will wrap up the regular season. First pitch Thursday is set for 6:02 p.m., with Friday’s game scheduled to start at 6 p.m. and Saturday’s at 2 p.m.

Here are three things to know about the series:

Stars collide: This weekend’s matchup features the SEC’s two best hitters, Georgia’s Charlie Condon and Florida’s Zac Caglianone. They could be the top two players selected in July’s MLB draft.

Caglianone is the reigning SEC player of the year. He brings to Foley Field a school-record-tying, 30-game hitting streak, while batting .418 with 28 home runs and 55 RBIs. Last weekend, Condon (.454-34-72) was attempting to match the NCAA-record-tying, nine-game home run streak that Caglianone reached in April. Condon, who leads the nation in homers, batting average and slugging percentage (1.082), saw his eight-game homer streak snapped against South Carolina.

Meanwhile, Caglianone is a modern-day marvel, as he also serves the Gators as a starting pitcher. The left-hander comes in with a 5-1 record and 4.07 ERA in 12 starts, with 66 strikeouts and 40 walks in 59⅔ innings. Caglianone — who is expected to start Saturday’s game — is the best pitcher on a Florida staff that otherwise has struggled. The Gators rank last in the league in team ERA at 6.20.

Condon and Caglianone have been friends since before they each played for Team USA this past summer and communicate via text every week. “We’ve been in touch all season,” Condon said Wednesday. “It’s all good stuff, light-hearted stuff. I’ve been lucky to get to know him. We’re nice to each other, just congratulating each other on our success and things like that.”

Georgia leads Division I baseball with 133 home runs. The Bulldogs have five players with double-figure homers, plus reigning SEC player of the week Tre Phelps, who has nine after hitting four last weekend. They’ve averaged 12.3 runs a game in the past two SEC series.

As for the marquee matchup of Caglianone versus Condon will offer for fans, Georgia coach Wes Johnson cracked, “hopefully not too many intentional walks.”

“In my opinion, and I can back it up objectively, Charlie is the best player in college baseball this year,” he continued. “I’ve got to think Caglianone is 2, 3 or 4, right? Is he a pitcher or a hitter? That’s the only thing about him (in the draft). You’re looking at the top two players in college baseball squaring off this weekend.”

Postseason implications: Winners of seven consecutive games in conference play and eight games overall, Georgia can finish no worse than sixth overall in the SEC standings. The Bulldogs currently are fifth overall in the league and have locked up at least third place in the Eastern Division.

The more meaningful result of UGA sweeping the Gators would be the possibility of commandeering the No. 4 seed for next week’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama. That would mean a first-round bye into the double-elimination portion of the tournament. However, moving up to fourth also would require an Arkansas sweep of Texas A&M in College Station. Anything less, and the Aggies with 18 wins would have the tiebreaker over the Bulldogs based on winning two of three in their series earlier this season.

More important, Georgia has locked up an NCAA Tournament bid. Its national ranking and RPI position (No. 4) assure that. But there is work to do for the Bulldogs to be assured of becoming regional hosts. With an unranked but dangerous Florida team coming to Athens, Georgia probably needs to win two of the three games to remove any doubt on that front. A sweep at the hands of the Gators could put everything in jeopardy.

As usual, Johnson is not interested in discussing scenarios.

“I told the guys, ‘We’re playing (Thursday) like it’s 0-0;’ and if we need to, I’ll even tell them we’re down 0-2,” Georgia’s first-year coach said.

The Bulldogs have been tough to beat at Foley Field. They enter the series with a 28-3 record at home. The three losses came to Ole Miss, 3-2 on April 20; Missouri, 6-5 in 10 innings April 12; and a 19-6 run-rule loss to Michigan State on Feb. 28.

Conversely, Florida has been a tough out for the Dogs. The Gators lead the overall series 191-101-2 and won two of three last year in Gainesville. But Georgia won five in a row before that nine of 11 dating to the 2018 season. No matter how one slices it, it’s a rivalry game and will be intense.

Charlie Goldstein on hold

The main question coming in was whether Charlie Goldstein, the Bulldogs’ No. 1 starter most of the season, will be available to pitch this weekend. That’s unlikely to happen.

Goldstein rested a triceps injury last weekend against South Carolina after having to come out of his start the previous weekend against Vanderbilt. The 6-foot-1 left-hander (4-1, 3.72 ERA) had been eased back into action after sitting out three weeks before that.

After last weekend’s sweep of the Gamecocks, it’s not quite as critical that Goldstein pitches. Johnson indicated the Bulldogs will give him more time.

“Now we’re in a little different spot,” Johnson said. “Don’t know yet, Not going to continue to push him. If we don’t see him this weekend, we’ll see him in Hoover, I’m, sure.”

Jared Evans started in Game 1 against the South Carolina, but was able to record only one out. Sophomore right-hander Kolten Smith (8-2, 4.73) got the win in relief. Not surprisingly, Smith has been anointed Thursday’s starter for the Bulldogs. Leighton Finley (5-1, 4.45), Georgia’s steadiest starter, will stay in the Friday slot. Georgia is “TBD” for Saturday.

Florida will counter with sophomore left-hander Pierce Coppola (0-2, 7.27 ERA), freshman righty Liam Peterson (2-4, 5.92 ERA) and Caglianone.