Through eight innings, the pitching staff did all it could to keep Clemson’s lead within reach, but failed at the plate to put any pressure on Clemson’s pitching staff. Until the ninth inning, Georgia had done everything right by not doing the usual stuff they do wrong. Then things fell apart, like they have all season.
Clemson, sporting enough depth to have a regular weekday starter went against a staff night for the Dawgs. Georgia sent seven pitchers to the rubber last night, starting with Ryan Avidano.
Scott Stricklin on managing staff nights: “We just looked at the matchups…Our pitchers did their job. Our pitchers were outstanding. They gave up one earned run, and if we just make two routine plays, heck, they might’ve not scored.”
In the first inning, Seth Beer flirted with the right field foul pole but missed a two-run homerun by inches. Avidano eventually got him to fly-out to left. But only four pitches later, Beer’s lineup security guard Chris Williams sent one over the trees in left to take an early 2-0 lead.
The two runs in the first frame would be Avidano’s only blemish, pitching 3.0 innings with two hits and a pair of strikeouts. Stricklin handed the ball to Christian Ryder in the fourth. Ryder struggled with control, plunking Williams in the head on his first pitch, allowing another run on before getting out of the two-on jam.
Ryder lasted only an inning and a third before getting yanked. Blakely Brown took on the first big challenge of the evening with a runner on third and one out for Clemson’s two-hole hitter Reed Rholman (.337/.512/.454), Seth Beer and the clean-up man Williams.
After Rholman grounded out to short, holding the runner at third, Stricklin opted to walk Seth Beer (.265/.592/.475) and pitch to the guy that already pinged a two-run bomb. It was a bold strategy, but paid off as Brown battled Williams at the plate in a seven-pitch at bat before catching him looking on a called third strike to retire the side.
This season, Williams is batting .400 with a pair of homeruns and 22 RBIs with runners in scoring position, better than Beer’s numbers. Had Williams done damage, it might have been easier to explain letting the game blow open at the hands of a California recruit as opposed to the former Freshman of the Year and Georgia native that traveled out of state to play for Clemson
Stricklin’s reasoning for the decision: “Open base and right-on-right. We look at the splits, what they do against right and left handed pitching. Williams really hits left-handed pitching well, and right-handed pitching not as good.”
Blakely Brown faced the toughest assignment all evening, and earned most valuable pitcher of the evening for the Dawgs. In his two-and-two-thirds work, he collected three strikeouts and a pickoff that ended a frame.
“We wanted to make sure Blakely Brown going against Rholman and Beer, that’s a matchup that we wanted to have … I’ll take Blakely Brown against any right-handed hitter, that was the matchup that we wanted,” said Stricklin.
On the other side of the rubber, Clemson’s Tyler Jackson worked through the Georgia lineup with ease. No Dawg baserunner reached third base through the first eight innings. Georgia didn’t put any pressure on Jackson all evening, and he was comfortable on the rubber all night. Through seven innings, Jackson retired 18 of the first 21 batters he faced.
The inability to put pressure on Jackson ensured the lead for the Tigers most of the evening. It wasn’t until his 75th pitch in the eighth with one out when L.J. Talley’s double in the gap trickling to the wall that Jackson faced adversity on the rubber. After retiring Austin Biggar with a groundout to short, the Dawgs finally got a chance to face a new pitcher as Clemson called to the bullpen.
For the first time in a long time, Georgia was at the receiving end free bases. Gaining two bases on one pitch, when Clemson reliever Jacob Hennessey walked pinch hitter Mitchell Webb on a full count wild pitch that allowed Talley to swipe third. The Dawgs applied pressure on Clemson for the first time all evening.
With Tucker Maxwell at the plate and runners on first and third, the freshman center fielder eagerly jumped on the first pitch and roped it to center. Unfortunately, Clemson’s K.J. Bryant only needed to travel a couple of steps to reel it in and put an end to Georgia’s lone threat of the night.
Tony Locey’s recent rut continued when he took the mound in the top of the ninth. In his last two appearances, Locey has only completed one and two-thirds work with five walks. His aggressive approach has missed the plate as of late, and it put the Dawgs in a tough spot with two on and nobody out.
Stricklin called on the everyday man Zach Kristofak to clean up the mess. After a sacrifice bunt advanced the runners to second and third, a sacrifice fly to deep left stretched Clemson’s lead to 3-0. The following wild pitch allowed Clemson’s pinch runner Chase Pinder to advance to third.
After forcing Greyson Bird to chop a routine grounder to second base, L.J. Talley’s throw was just wide enough to give the inexperienced first basemen Keegan McGovern a fit, as the E-4 plated another run.
Clemson extended their lead to four runs, with the bullpen closing up shop in the bottom of the ninth to secure the victory. Georgia will get another crack at the Tigers when they travel to Clemson on Wednesday April 19th.
Georgia didn’t need a win to keep the momentum rolling into the weekend series against Missouri, all they needed was a respectable performance without botching the ball around the infield and giving up free bases. Until the ugly ninth inning, the Dawgs had done what they needed to look okay in the loss.
Ending the game with the two walks, a wild pitch and error will leave a sour taste in the Dawgs mouth as they prepare for Missouri over the weekend.
“Bottom line is we didn’t do enough to win. Our pitchers did their job, but offensively and defensively we had major misplays that cost us,” Stricklin said after the game.