In 2018 and ‘19, the Bulldogs were national seeds in the postseason but were bounced early. In 2020, their best team since 2008 saw the season wiped out by COVID-19. Last year, the NCAA selection committee quite controversially deemed Georgia’s résumé insufficient.
This year, the Bulldogs (34-18, 14-13 SEC) have been bent on leaving nothing to chance. And, for the most part, they have.
Playing what’s considered the fourth-toughest schedule in college baseball, Georgia would not seem in danger of being left out again. Even after losing two of three to No. 1 Tennessee (46-7, 22-5) in Knoxville last weekend, the Bulldogs moved up two spots in RPI (rating percentage index). It would take a colossal collapse to screw up their postseason profile at this point.
But just earning an NCAA berth is not the goal. Georgia is in a three-way tie for fifth in the SEC. Tied with LSU and Vanderbilt and with Auburn ahead of them, all are eyeing a coveted spot in the top four and the first-round SEC Tournament bye that comes with it.
All the Bulldogs can control is what they do on their home field the next three days. Appearances say Georgia is in good shape in that regard. Missouri (26-22, 8-19) is in last place among the 14 SEC teams. But the Tigers are far more competitive than their record indicates. A better gauge might be their SEC run differential, which is minus-62 (197-135), or an average of two runs per game.
“We’ve done a lot to put ourselves in this position,” coach Scott Stricklin said. “We’ve played a tough schedule, we’ve had a lot of success, we’ve won a lot of big games. Now the message is to finish what we’ve started.”
It hasn’t been without adversity. The Bulldogs lost two weekend starting pitchers to season-ending injuries and played without star shortstop Cole Tate for three weeks because of a stress fracture in his leg. Tate returned last week and led Georgia in hitting against the Volunteers.
When Tate stepped out, McAllister stepped up. McAllister always has considered himself a utility player. In fact, he has played every position on the field during his UGA career except for pitcher and catcher.
McAllister was starting at third base when Tate went down. Stricklin moved McCallister over to short, and the Bulldogs haven’t missed a beat.
“Josh is athletic enough he could probably play pitcher and catcher, too,” Stricklin said. “He reminds me of Kyle Farmer. Not really a big, physical kid who jumps out at you when you look at the metrics, but he can just play. And Kyle Farmer made it to the big leagues as a catcher. I don’t know if Josh can catch, but he has similar traits.”
As it stands, McAllister has remained at shortstop since Tate returned, but that possibly could change this week. McAllister sprained a thumb during his last at-bat against Tennessee on Saturday and didn’t play against Presbyterian on Tuesday.
Stricklin said it will be a game-time decision Thursday whether McAllister plays at all. He was guessing that the senior will be raring to go if at all possible.
That’s because McAllister’s passion for the Bulldogs runs deep. His father, Chris McAllister, once worked in UGA’s ticket office. So his childhood memories are filled with attending Georgia football games.
Eventually, McAllister’s baseball skills made that his favorite sport. So, he followed the Diamond Dawgs like a hedge-fund manager watches the market.
McAllister drew little recruiting notice when he graduated from Lambert High. Stricklin and the Bulldogs knew about him but thought junior college would be a better route.
McAllister took it to Florida Southwestern State. After hitting .270 over two seasons, Georgia offered a spot as a preferred walk-on.
McAllister pounced on it like an ant on spilled ice cream. He has played in 93 games the past two seasons, starting nearly every one at one position or another. While defense is his specialty, McAllister is hitting .274 this season with four homers and 27 RBIs.
“Growing up, this was the only place I ever wanted to play,” he said. “I didn’t get that opportunity out of high school, but I’m glad I went to junior college. I’m glad that I developed for two years, and I’m just grateful to coach Stricklin that he gave me the opportunity to be able to step out here on Foley Field every day.”
Stricklin and the Bulldogs are grateful as well. Now the hope is just to stick together and keep playing as long as they can.