Georgia baseball overcoming adversity to keep goals alive

Credit: Kari Hodges/UGAAA

Credit: Kari Hodges/UGAAA

ATHENS – Georgia baseball still has work to do, but winning the Tennessee series this past weekend has put the Bulldogs in position to play its way into an NCAA Tournament bid.

Considering where it was just a few weeks ago that, in itself, is quite an accomplishment. What makes that accomplishment even more impressive is the sheer extent of adversity Georgia has had to overcome.

With a 9-4 win on Sunday, Georgia (27-21, 10-14 SEC) took two of three games from the 18th-ranked Vols this past weekend at Foley Field. It was the Bulldogs’ ninth win in the last 14 SEC games.

Georgia has done that despite missing numerous key players. The Bulldogs were without their top two catchers Fernando Velasco and Corey Collins. Parks Harber played despite a lingering hand injury. Meanwhile, Georgia entered the Tennessee series missing No. 1 starter Jaden Woods (bicep tendinitis) and unsure whether No. 2 man Liam Sullivan (shoulder) would be able to go.

Then, already down 0-1 in the series and only two pitches into Saturday’s game, Georgia lost starter Charlie Goldstein to a leg injury fielding a ground ball.

No problem, Jared Evans said.

The little-used freshman left-hander from Buford was sent into the game and, after a brief warmup in the Georgia bullpen, proceeded to mow down the Vols on the way to earning the victory. Evans allowed just one run in 5.1 innings and recorded with seven strikeouts, both of which were career highs. With the 3-1 victory, the Bulldogs snapped Tennessee’s nine-game win streak.

For Evans, it was his second appearance of the week after making his first career start last Tuesday against Kennesaw State. Providing 3.2 innings of work and striking out six, Evans got a no decision in a game Georgia eventually won 10-9. On Monday, Evans (2-0, 4.80 ERA) was named co-freshman of the week.

“We’re just a team full of guys that can go,” Evans after Saturday’s victory. “Next guy up, that’s our motto right now.”

The next guy up Sunday was Sullivan, who made a triumphant return to the mound on Sunday. Entering the weekend, it was unknown whether the junior left-hander would be able to play. As it was, he entered the contest on 60-pitch limit. He actually threw 66 before handing the game over to the Bulldogs’ depleted bullpen in the fourth inning.

Kyle Greenler (2-1), a graduate transfer from Elon, got the win, with Collin Caldwell, Dalton Rhadans and Leighton Finley closing it out. All were throwing pitches to Will David. Normally an infielder, the graduate transfer from Samford has been pressed into an emergency-catcher’s role.

“These kids don’t give up; they just don’t quit,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “It would’ve been really easy to do that when Charlie Goldstein went down (Saturday). What happened was Jared Evans stepped up and Chandler Marsh stepped up and everybody stepped up and did their job and it was contagious.”

Hitting has never been an issue for the Bulldogs, especially with Charlie Condon and Connor Tate in the heart of the lineup. Condon, a redshirt freshman from Marietta, hit his 21st and 22nd home runs of the season on Sunday. That’s a UGA freshman record and the most since Rich Poythress hit 25 in 2009. Gordon Beckam holds the school’s single-season mark with 28 in 2008.

Condon is hitting .410 with 61 RBI, while Tate, a sixth-year senior from Watkinsville, is batting .387 with 13 homers and 49 RBI.

Now, everything suddenly seems possible for the Bulldogs. Woods, Gonzalez and Collins should be able to make their way back to the field in some capacity this week. Goldstein (hamstring) is not expected to be sidelined long. The anticipation is Sullivan should be good to go now, too.

After hosting USC-Upstate (32-16) in a non-conference game Wednesday, Georgia has two more SEC series remaining in the regular season. The Bulldogs will travel to Missouri (27-20, 7-17) for a three-game set that starts Friday, then wrap up the regular season against LSU at Foley Field May 18-20. The Tigers (37-10, 16-7) were ranked No. 1 before getting run-ruled by Auburn Sunday to lose their first SEC series of the season, two games to one

Should Georgia win those last two series, it would be hard deny it a place in the NCAA Tournament field regardless of its showing in the SEC Tournament May 23-28. The SEC is by far the NCAA’s strongest baseball conference and it’s not even close. Playing arguably the nation’s toughest schedule, Georgia is currently 29th in RPI.

A .500 record in SEC play is considered automatic, but after being denied with that mark record in 2021, the Bulldogs aren’t taking anything for granted.

“We’re just trying to get another win,” said Stricklin, understandably hesitant to get into postseason talk. “We’ve just got to keep on winning. Two more series and I’d think we’d be in pretty good shape, but you never know.”