No. 18 Georgia baseball hosts defending national champions in SEC opener

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

ATHENS – Georgia baseball coach Scott Stricklin said at the outset of the season he liked his team’s depth. The baseball gods have been testing his words ever since.

The No. 18 Bulldogs (14-3) open SEC play Friday night against defending national champion Mississippi State (11-7). UGA’s Foley Field has long been sold out in anticipation.

But the crowd and SEC Network, which will televise Friday night’s 7:02 p.m. game and Sunday’s noon tilt as well, is not going to get exactly what they expected. The visiting maroon-clad Bulldogs will be without two of their top pitchers, including Georgia native Landon Sims. Both Sims and closer Stone Simmons suffered season-ending arm injuries against Tulane this past weekend.

To that, Georgia says, “hold my rosin bag.”

The Bulldogs also will be without several key hurlers. The good news is ace right-hander Jonathan Cannon (3-1, 2.39 ERA) is good to go for Friday night’s game. But regular Saturday starter Liam Sullivan (2-1, 3.68) is going to miss his start with what Stricklin describes as a minor arm issue.

“He probably could pitch, but we don’t want a minor thing to turn into a major thing,” Stricklin said during his weekly radio appearance on 960 The Ref in Athens on Thursday. “We feel pretty confident he’s going to be ready for Kentucky (next weekend). We’re just being really cautious.”

Georgia will go with Luke Wagner instead, which isn’t the worst thing. The sophomore left-hander from New Cumberland, Pa., happens to lead Division I baseball in wins (5-0, 0.73).

The Bulldogs already are having to play without Sunday starter Dylan Ross, who was lost to a season-ending arm injury two weeks ago. Instead, Garrett Brown will get his fifth start of the season Sunday.

Good thing Georgia can hit a little. The Bulldogs are batting .304 with 19 home runs on the season. Center fielder Ben Anderson (.373-3-12) and shortstop Cole Tate (.372-1-9), both graduates, lead the regulars. Anderson has reached base in 15 consecutive games and ranks among the SEC leaders with a .548 on-base percentage. Tate ranks among the SEC leaders with 28 hits.

The Bulldogs will need to rake against Mississippi State, which has reeled off four consecutive victories and leads the series 49-45 in available records. The teams haven’t met since 2019 when Mississippi State swept an SEC series in Starkville. Mississippi State’s last trip to Athens came in 2017, and Georgia claimed the series 2-1.

The Bulldogs have had to navigate injuries to fielders as well this season. Despite, they reached the opening of SEC play with stout 14-3 record and the confidence to make. Their only losses have come to No. 14 Georgia Tech and an 11-6 Georgia Southern team on the road.

But everything cranks up considerably with the arrival of SEC play, especially when the opening opponent is the defending national champion.

“When you’re getting ready and you’re scouting and watching video, the guys are just a little bigger, a little stronger, a little faster and throw a little harder,” Stricklin said. “It definitely gets your juices flowing because you know the volume’s getting turned up.”

For both teams, the hope is the injury count will go down.

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