The start to game one of the series between Missouri and Georgia got off to a slow start when Missouri’s travel plans required pushing pitch back to 9 p.m.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">my apologies for the bad angle, but here's the travel issues Missouri baseball faced before the first game on Thursday <a href="https://t.co/unzg8ooLxz">pic.twitter.com/unzg8ooLxz</a></p>— Hank Sewell (@hank_sewell) <a href="https://twitter.com/hank_sewell/status/850401583515000832">April 7, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Georgia took advantage of Missouri’s disposition, jumping out to a one-run lead in the first. Cam Shephard continued his hot streak with a single to center. He then advanced to second on Keegan McGovern’s infield ground ball, setting up Michael Curry for an RBI opportunity. Curry delivered with a single up the middle and the Dawgs took the lead from the get-go.
In the third inning, Tucker Maxwell smashed a homerun to the top of the scoreboard, leaving a dent just above the Power-G. The homerun was Tucker Maxwell’s first extra base hit in sometime. Although his on-base percentage is a respectable .339, that has mostly to do with his ability to draw walks as opposed to hits. Hence his very low .194 batting average.
The run gave the Dawgs some breathing room, but with the way Andrew Gist pitching recently, one run is enough. The senior lefty is making the most of his last season in Athens with improvement in his last three starts.
Against Auburn two weeks ago, Gist set a career high for strike outs in seven innings with 7 Ks. Then against Tennessee last week, Gist topped his previous total by one, collecting 8 Ks. Then most recently on Friday night, Gist retired 10 batters on his own and set the season-high strikeout number for the club.
Zac Kristofak followed Gist in relief and added 6 Ks of his own. In total, the Dawgs collected 17 Ks on the night, the most all season and a total that will be tough to match again.
Coming into the series, Missouri ranks just ahead of Georgia in strikeouts at third place in the conference. Which explains why Georgia had as much success as they did on the mound, combined with Mizzou’s jet and travel lag.
As for game two of the series, Georgia’s recent pitching improvement halted before the first inning ended. Opening day starting pitcher Kevin Smith’s sophomore slump continued Friday night in his sixth start of the season. Entering with a 6.43 ERA in 21 innings pitched this season, Smith had allowed 19 runs. Against the Tigers, Smith only lasted two-and-one-third innings allowing six earned runs.
Smith now has more runs allowed (25) than innings pitched (23.1). Stricklin on Smith’s struggles, “He’s falling behind hitters, he walked four hitters. His stuff is way too good to pick around the strike zone, and he’s just been too tentative.”
Missouri jumped on Georgia early with a two-run homerun in the first, but Georgia responded by cutting the lead in half the same way they got on the board in game one, a McGovern RBI driving in Shephard.
After both teams put up goose eggs in the second, things fell apart for Smith and the Dawgs. After loading the bases with a pair of singles and a walk, Smith recorded a strike out but then walked in a run and it would be the last batter he faced. In relief, Blakely Brown came in to clean up the very tough mess. His only blemishes in the appearance came in the mop up job as an 0-2 pitch dropped in right field, scoring two and another single cleared the bases, plating five in the inning.
“The 0-2 bloop hit was a back-breaker, but that’s part of baseball. They found a way to get those runs in in the third inning and put us behind the eight ball,” said Stricklin.
Blakely Brown lasted 80 pitches in a career high four-and-two-thirds work and a career high eight strikeouts. Brown might have pitched his way into the starting rotation after his last few appearances, while Smith has equally pitched his way out.
After responding with two runs in the third, Georgia had a chance to do more damage with runners on second and third, but couldn't get over the hump. And in the bottom of the fourth, they had the bases loaded with Michael Curry at the plate, but they let Mizzou off the hook with a three-pitch strikeout, scoring nothing.
But Georgia got things going in the fifth, putting two runs on the board. The Dawgs got to Mizzou’s best reliever, TJ Sikkema, in his second inning of work. Knocking in the most earned runs the reliever had given up all year. Previously, he’d only given up two earned runs all season.
“When we got Sikkema out of the game, I felt pretty good about our chances, that’s their go-to guy and we were able to get him out of the game. We just couldn’t get the big hit with runners in scoring position,” said Stricklin.
The two runs tightened Mizzou’s lead, but it wasn’t enough as they left the fifth inning with runners on second and third, still trailing 8-5. Which is the score that the game would conclude at the end of nine.
Georgia out hit Mizzou 14 to six, but left 14 batters on base. Not getting the base hit to put Georgia over the hump continues to haunt the young roster, but it was the hole that the pitching put them in at the start that proved too large to make-up for.
“When you walk guys and give teams free opportunities it’s going to come back to bite you. That was the story today. We out-hit them by 8 hits, but we just gave them too many free chances. You’re not going to beat anybody, let alone a good team, when you give them free chances.”
The rubber match for the series is set for tomorrow at SunTrust Park. The game will be the first event open to the public, with all tickets general admission costing only $15. On the bump for the Dawgs tomorrow will be Chase Adkins, who Stricklin pointed out in his postgame comments as the key to victory tomorrow:
“We need a great start out of Chase [Adkins]. That’s certainly one of the reasons why we’ve kept him for Sunday’s. He’s a guy that can really finish off a weekend right. Biggest thing is if Chase Adkins goes out there and pitches well we’ve got a great chance to win.”
As for getting the opportunity to play in a Major-League ball park, here’s what Stricklin’s said of the unique opportunity,
“It’s a really unique opportunity. It’s something we talked about as a staff and as a department, do we want to move a home game in the SEC to SunTrust? Because it’s the first game open to the public, it’s just such a unique opportunity. And it’s in metro-Atlanta, we have a lot of players from that area and we recruit a lot of players out of that area. We just decided that it was such a unique opportunity that we had to take advantage of it.”
First pitch is at 1:30 tomorrow. With a win, Georgia can even their SEC series record total to 2-2.