Drama on the diamond for Georgia baseball, softball

Georgia outfielder Ben Anderson rounds third base and heads for home during an 11-10 victory over Missouri on Saturday at Foley Field. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia outfielder Ben Anderson rounds third base and heads for home during an 11-10 victory over Missouri on Saturday at Foley Field. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

ATHENS — The Georgia baseball and softball teams proved over the weekend that there’s honor in victory and in defeat.

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Coach Scott Stricklin’s baseball team could not have gotten off to a worse start than to drop the first two games of a three-game series against then-last-place Missouri over at Foley Field. But after watching a 7-3 lead evaporate into a 10-7 deficit Saturday, the Bulldogs rallied for a crucial 11-10 walk-off win.

Likewise, coach Tony Baldwin’s softball squad stumbled out of the gate in the NCAA Durham Regional, losing the opening game 2-0 to Liberty to fall into the losers bracket for the double-elimination tournament. But the Bulldogs fought their way out of it, winning games over UMBC and Liberty on Saturday, the latter game of which didn’t get over until the wee hours of Sunday. Georgia players and coaches got a few hours of sleep, then came back out early Sunday afternoon to knock off host Duke 5-3 to force a final one-game playoff for the super regional.

After battling to a 5-5 tie through four innings, the Bulldogs’ pitching finally ran out of gas, and the Blue Devils rallied with a six-run fifth inning and went on to a 13-5 victory to claim the region championship.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our team, proud of our staff,” said Baldwin, whose first season as Georgia’s coach ends with a 43-18 record. “We’ve got a great group of people. Just really proud of the way we competed and put ourselves in this position. I thought we fought the way Georgia softball is known to do it.”

While softball’s season ends, baseball’s continues this week as the No. 6 seed in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. Eking out one win was not what the Bulldogs wanted or expected going against the conference’s last-place team entering the final series of the regular season. But the fact that Georgia got up off the mat to forge a dramatic walk-off win Saturday was a testament to the team’s fortitude.

It also likely assured the season will continue beyond the SEC Tournament.

“Huge win,” Stricklin said. “To have the game somewhat in hand at 7-3, next thing you know it’s 10-7 with all of the momentum in their dugout. We battled. We won the little battles, from the seventh inning on. We just found a way to get it done. It was a really gutsy win. I’m really proud of them. What a way to end the regular season!”

The victory left No. 25 Georgia’s (35-20, 15-15 SEC) with a .500 record in conference play, which could prove critical when the NCAA selection committee is handing out postseason bids next week. The 31-25 Bulldogs missed the NCAA Tournament last year with a 13-17 conference record.

Georgia trailed 10-9 going to the ninth before pushing across a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth, aided by a Missouri error. Catcher Fernando Gonzalez, who was 2-for-5, hit the grounder that ended up as the game-winning fielder’s choice.

With a better weekend, the Diamond Dawgs could have played their way into a first-round bye for the conference tournament. Instead, they remain at sixth and will face 11th-seeded Alabama (29-25, 12-17) Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. Georgia won two of three against the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa earlier this season.