Georgia baseball enters SEC play vs. No. 14 South Carolina

Credit: Kari Hodges

Credit: Kari Hodges

ATHENS — Two of SEC baseball’s more explosive offenses will collide this weekend at Foley Field.

Georgia plays host to No. 14 South Carolina in the SEC-opening series for both teams. With heavy rain is expected in the area all day Friday, UGA postponed Friday’s night game and rescheduled it as part of a doubleheader beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday. The teams will play a single game Sunday (3 p.m., SEC Network).

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Whenever pitches are delivered, the challenge for both pitching staffs will be keeping the balls within the park. The Bulldogs (13-4) already have hit 41 home runs this season and come in batting .337 as a team. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks (14-1) – winners of eight consecutive games – lead the nation with 48 long balls and have a .308 team batting average.

Friday’s forecast calls for an a 100% chance of rain, with a huge front coming through that extends from Knoxville to New Orleans. The good news is the weather the rest of the weekend calls for clear skies, but cool temperatures.

“We’ll probably have to do some shuffling,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said on his weekly radio show Thursday. “With three games, and every game either sold out or close to it, we’ll have to do separate tickets (for a doubleheader).”

When they begin play Saturday, pitching quickly will move to the forefront just because both teams come in swinging such hot bats. Nobody in the SEC hit the ball better than the Bulldogs last week, as they batted .360 as a team in five games against Georgia Southern and Charleston Southern. Georgia went 4-1 in those games, then followed that with a 10-8, come-from-behind win over Wofford on Tuesday. The Bulldogs’ victory snapped what had been a national-best 14-game win streak for the Terriers, who arrived with a top-5 RPI.

Similarly, the Gamecocks have not lost a game since dropping a 5-2 decision to Clemson on March 3. But other than that three-game series against Clemson, South Carolina hasn’t exactly loaded up on its non-conference schedule. Neither has Georgia, which took two of three games against a Georgia Tech team that was ranked in the top 20 at the time.

The Georgia-South Carolina series could be telling for the rest of the season. It would appear the Gamecocks hold an edge in pitching. Their team ERA of 2.55 ranks No. 5 in the Division I. They’ve allowed only 45 earned runs. Compare that with the Bulldogs, who rank 114th with a 5.13 ERA and 85 earned runs allowed.

But Georgia has been very strong at the top. No. 2 starter Liam Sullivan (3-0), a left-hander, ranks sixth in college baseball with 0.44 ERA. And since a season-opening misstep, Friday night starter Jaden Woods (3-0, 2.60) has been nearly as untouchable. The Bulldogs have struggled with their third starter, which had been occupied by senior Nolan Crisp, but enters the series as “TBA.”

South Carolina will throw all right-handers, starting junior right-hander Will Sanders (2-1, 3.86 ERA), senior Noah Hall (3-0, 2.59 ERA) and junior RHP Jack Mahoney (2-0, 3.00 ERA). The Gamecocks have given up only six home runs all season.

They’ll have their hands full with two Georgia batters in particular. Charlie Condon (.531-8-34) and Connor Tate (.507-7-24) both are hitting over .500 and rank Nos. 2 and 4, respectively, in the nation in batting. The Bulldogs are 10th nationally with 177 runs, or 10.3 per game.

“They’ve got some guys who have hit some home runs, too, and they’ve got a good pitching staff, so this is certainly going to be a big challenge,” Stricklin said.