Stricklin Era Begins

ATHENS - The Scott Stricklin era for Georgia baseball began with a 9-3 loss, followed by an 11-3 win in Saturday's season-opening double-header with Georgia Southern. (Photo Courtesy of UGA Athletics)

Georgia (1-1) opened up its 2014 season with a weak offensive performance in game one of Saturday's double-header with Georgia Southern (1-1), but bounced back with a strong outing in game two of its opening weekend series at Foley Field.

"I told them the great thing about baseball is you get to turn around and play a game really quickly," Stricklin said. "It's not like football where you have to wait a week. You get to play right away."

The Bulldogs, who scored just three runs total in the first game, scored seven runs through two innings of game two to take a quick 7-0 lead. It was a tale of two games for Georgia on Saturday as the Bulldogs had to make some serious changes after a 9-3 loss in game one.

"We all knew that wasn't the way we wanted to start," junior left fielder Hunter Cole said. "That was pretty apparent. They came out and swung the bats well in the first game and we didn't. He (Stricklin) just told us to kind of shake it off and we had a great day to play two baseball games."

The Eagles put themselves in the scoring column first in Saturday's opening game as Chase Griffin crossed home plate following a single to center field by Stryker Brown in the top of the second inning. Following the single, the bases remained loaded for Georgia Southern with only one out.

Georgia Southern capitalized on the scoring opportunity as Dalton Busby's single to left field sent Hunter Thomas and Ryan Cleveland home to put Georgia Southern out front by three runs.

With runners on first and second base, Georgia's starting pitcher, Sean McLaughlin, had to buckle down. However, Kody Adams reached first on a fielder's choice as Brown advanced to third, leading Georgia to make its first pitching change of the day. McLaughlin exited the game as redshirt sophomore David Sosebee took the mound.

Sosebee, a White County alum from Cleveland, Ga., allowed a shot up the middle to center field from Ben Morgan, which led to runners sitting on first and third as Brown scored Georgia Southern's fourth run of the inning.

Sosebee held the Eagles to four in the second as his focus late in the inning allowed him to strike out Aaron Mizell looking for the third and final out.

With Georgia trailing by four, Hunter Cole had the task of earning some momentum on the offensive end. Georgia Southern's starting pitcher Sam Howard, however, was dialed in, just as Stricklin expected. Early in the week, Stricklin spoke of the performance he expected Georgia Southern's ace to provide.

"He can throw the ball in the low 90s," Stricklin said on Wednesday afternoon. "He'll have some pro scouts here looking at him, so he's a professional prospect that can really pitch. We're going to have our hands full with him on the mound."

Georgia did just that.

Howard finished with seven strikeouts and no earned runs through five innings in his first win of the season, while Georgia's McLaughlin allowed four earned runs and four hits in 1.2 innings pitched to finish with his first loss of 2014.

"We just couldn't get on base in game one," Stricklin said. "When you fall behind 3-0 really quick and you can't get on base it's tough to do anything. We didn't do anything in game one because we couldn't. We didn't have anybody on base and that's a credit to Sam Howard."

Howard forced Hunter Cole and Jess Posey to ground out to shortstop and second base for two quick outs. Georgia designated hitter Zack Bowers was left to work with two outs and no runners on the base path. Bowers fell short of the tough task as Howard struck him out looking to end the inning.

With two outs in the top of the third inning, Garrett Chapman's plate appearance resulted in a single to left field as Cleveland advanced to second. With a runner in scoring position for Georgia Southern and two outs, Brown stepped to the plate to face Sosebee. Sosebee won that battle as he forced Brown to fly out to second baseman Cody McCance for the final out of the inning's top half.

Heath Holder made quick work in the bottom of the third by singling to center field on Howard's first pitch of the inning.

Looking to get the Bulldogs on the scoreboard, McCance struck out with Holder on second base. With two outs and McCance in scoring position, Stephen Wrenn grounded to second base for the third out of the inning.

With two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, Hunter Cole doubled to center to give Georgia a chance to get on the board with Posey at the plate. Cole's double gave Georgia its second hit of the game, and an opportunity to pull closer to the Eagles who led by four. Facing a 1-2 count, Posey whiffed on Howard's offer to end the inning with Georgia still trailing by four.

With no outs in the top of the fifth, Georgia Southern's offense continued to put runners in position to extend its lead. Mizell led off the inning with a single to right field and advanced to third after Griffin doubled to right. With runners in scoring position, Sosebee was up in a 2-2 count against Cleveland. Cleveland fouled the following pitch off his foot to keep the count alive, but watched the next breaking ball go by for a Sosebee strikeout.

In a crucial situation where Georgia Southern's offense was capable of busting its lead wide open, Sosebee needed to be efficient. He forced Thomas to ground out for the second of the inning, but allowed Mizell to score the Eagles' fifth run. However, Chapman grounded out to shortstop to end the inning. While Sosebee allowed a run in the top of the fifth, it could have been worse for the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs again were unable to capitalize with a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the fifth inning as Wrenn flied out to right field with Brandon Stephens sitting on second base.

In the top of the sixth, junior right-hander Luke Crumley from Cleveland, Ga. took the mound to replace Sosebee. Crumley's first appearance of the year was unkind to him immediately. He allowed three runs in the inning as Georgia Southern extended its lead to eight.

Georgia put two runs on the board by way of a costly Georgia Southern mistake in the bottom of the sixth. After a single to left field from Cole, Ward advanced to second to put Georgia in position to score. Following Hunter Cole's single, a single from Posey scored Cole and Ward after a throw from Busby was well out of reach for the Eagles' first baseman, Cleveland. Two unearned runs were all Georgia would take in the sixth as Holder struck out swinging for out three.

In the bottom of the eighth, Ward doubled to right with two outs to give the Bulldogs a late opportunity to make a run at the Eagles' six-run lead. Hunter Cole hit a hard grounder up the middle, and made it to first safely with no one able to make a play on the ball. Ward advanced to third on the base hit and scored on the next play as Posey reached first by way of a fielder's choice. Georgia earned one run in the inning to pull within five of the Eagles, who led 8-3 entering the game's final inning.

Georgia Southern earned its final run in the top of the ninth when a single to left field by Brown sent Aaron Palmer home to put the Eagles up 9-3; the game's final score after nine innings.

Chase Griffin led the Eagles with three runs batted in as well as three hits in game one of Saturday's double-header while Posey knocked in one of the Bulldogs' three runs.

Sophomore Ryan Lawlor from Savannah, Ga. took the mound for Georgia in game two of Saturday's double-header while right-hander Josh Wirsu got the start for the Eagles.

Georgia's offense got out to a more aggressive start in game two. After Lawlor escaped the first inning without allowing a run, the Bulldogs' offense was in business.

Wrenn singled to right field to start the inning, then followed his single up by stealing second and third base. The freshman from Marietta, Ga. then scored on Ward's two-run home run to right field that put Georgia up 2-0; its first lead of the season and Ward's first long ball. Ward wants to see aggressive play on the base path by his teammates from now on.

"That's going to be our game plan all season, no matter who we're playing," Ward said. "We would have done it in the first game also; we just didn't have any base runners."

Ward went 2 for 4 in game two with one home run and batted in three runs. While he hit the Bulldogs' only home run of the entire day, he says he may not make a habit of it.

"That's cool, but I don't think I'll hit many of them. I'm not Hunter Cole," Ward joked.

The first inning continued to be kind to the Bulldogs as Hunter Cole, who reached first on a single to left field, advanced to second when Wirsu walked Posey. Wirsu then followed that walk up by walking Daniel Nichols. Hunter Cole advanced to third and then continued home for an unearned run following a Georgia Southern error.

Cole finished the second game with three hits in five at bats for a double and two runs batted in.

The runs continued to pile up for Georgia; unlike in game one. Skyler Weber, making his Georgia debut on Saturday, singled, then advanced to second on a wild throw. Weber's hit sent Nichols and Posey home to put the Bulldogs up 5-0.

"I think what happened in the second game is we started out strong and we stayed that way throughout the game," Lawlor said.

Georgia struck again in the second inning when Wrenn, who stole third for his third stolen base of the game, scored following a fielder's choice where Ward reached first and advanced to second on an error by Chapman, the Georgia Southern third baseman. Ward followed Wrenn's lead by stealing third base to put himself in position to score. With Ward on third, Posey reached first on an error by Griffin, the Eagles' catcher. As a result of the catcher's inaccurate throw to first, Ward scored an unearned run to put the Bulldogs up 7-0 at the end of the second inning.

Along with Ward's impressive offensive performance, he stood strong in his first appearance at shortstop in place of the injured Mike Bell.

"I felt great," Ward said. "I've gotten practice (at shortstop) over the last couple of weeks, so I feel really comfortable. I really like it."

The Eagles put themselves on the board in the top of the fourth inning by way of a Cleveland double to left field that sent Griffin, who reached base on a Lawlor walk, home. Cleveland's double pulled Georgia Southern within six runs of the Bulldogs, who led 7-1.

Georgia's offense matched the Eagles' fourth inning score, and raised it one when Conor Welton scored on a Hunter Cole single to left field, followed by a Posey groundout to second that plated Ward. The Bulldogs' two runs in the fourth inning gave Georgia a 9-1 lead going into the fifth.

"The big thing for us is being comfortable under pressure; being comfortable being uncomfortable," Cole said. "If we know we can put pressure on other teams and make them uncomfortable we have a better opportunity to score runs."

Welton reached first with a single to third base to start the bottom of the sixth inning. The redshirt junior later advanced to second on a Ward groundout to shortstop, and scored on a Hunter Cole double to right field that put Georgia up 10-1. Hunter Cole advanced to third on a wild pitch by C.J. Brazil and scored on a Posey groundout to second to put the Bulldogs ahead by 10 after six innings.

Georgia Southern scored two runs in the seventh inning by way of hits from Cleveland and Garren Palmer to pull within eight of the Bulldogs, but never got any closer.

Lawlor finished with three strikeouts and allowed three earned runs through six innings pitched to finish game two with his first win as a Bulldog.

"It was great to be out there and have a great day out there," Lawlor said. "I didn't expect to go six innings, but you know we took it one at a time, and kept the pitch count down."

Georgia baseball returns to action on Sunday at 1 p.m. as the Bulldogs finish their opening weekend series with Georgia Southern at Foley Field.

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