This is the Vanderbilt baseball team it usually is, and this isn’t the Georgia baseball team it should be or will be in the future. The young talent on Foley Field needed to put together a strong performance against the Commodores after getting throttled in Fayetteville by the Hogs and dropping a close one to Clemson.
Going into last weekend’s series, the Diamond Dawgs were riding high off the decisive victory over the in-state rival Georgia Tech. Just about all of it was lost after Arkansas swept Georgia by the combined score of 30-11.
Even though they were given an extra two days of rest between Sunday and Tuesday (compared to usually just Monday), the schedulers gave the Dawgs no breaks. In the heart of their most difficult stretch, traveling Clemson on Wednesday followed by hosting the Commodores, Georgia desperately needed to pick up momentum. The schedule is unrelenting in the SEC, arguably even more so in baseball than football.
Georgia organically grew their own momentum against Georgia Tech by getting on the board early and striking batters out. It’s a timeless formula that will work against any opponent if you can make it happen, Georgia’s problem is they haven’t made it happen.
Against Vanderbilt in game one, it didn’t happen. The Dawgs were only able to turn eight hits into one run, a concerning return on hits for any offense, going 0-4 from the dish with runners in scoring position. Georgia was even gifted two errors, which has hardly ever happened to them in 2017, and they still weren’t able to make the most of the mistakes.
Georgia’s misplay in the fifth inning cost them a reasonable a shot at putting a comeback together. With two outs and the bases loaded, right fielder Tucker Bradley lost a routine fly ball baseball in the twilight sky, it bounced on the warning track and off the wall, clearing the bases. The four-run fifth stretched the Commodores lead from a reasonable 2-1 to a discouraging 6-1. From that point forward the Dawgs couldn’t muster a rally and stayed too far out of reach until the final out.
“No question it’s a big momentum changer … In the twilight, it’s tough to catch the ball, there’s not much you can do about it,” said Stricklin after the game.
After dropping the first game 8-1 on Friday, Georgia and Vanderbilt changed the schedule on Saturday to accommodate the expected inclement weather. Channeling the late Cubs great Ernie Banks, they decided “let’s play two” on Saturday. Somewhere in the great beyond, Banks approved with a smile.
After game one, I asked coach Stricklin what his young Dawgs needed to do get back momentum in the tough stretch, he responded:
“[We] gotta make plays. You gotta believe you’re gonna make plays. Things have not gone right for us a lot this year. When you think things are going to go wrong for you, it most likely does. We’ve just be positive, make plays and prepare ourselves to make those plays.”
“I told the guys, bottom line is we’ve got to play as positive as we can. We’ve got 18 innings to play tomorrow to do our jobs, and see what happens if we do it.”
Due to the first game’s first pitch at the exact same time as Georgia’s kickoff time for the spring game, I in attendance but in looking at the box score, the Dawgs did their job on the mound and the best they could at the plate, making the oh-so-important one more play than the opponent.
Both pitchers were lights out from the rubber. Georgia’s Chase Adkins went eight scoreless innings, striking out six, while only relinquishing two hits. Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright went seven scoreless innings, but collected two more K’s than his adversary.
Cam Shephard has been better than advertised this season. His sensational freshman campaign continued Saturday when he delivered the go-ahead and eventual game-winning solo homerun in the eighth inning over the trees in left field. The Diamond Dawgs made one more play than Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon, edging out the Commodores 1-0. The Dawgs earned a shot in the evening rubber-match to win a series against Vanderbilt for the first time in more than eight seasons.
The Dawgs got on the board in the first, but Vanderbilt quickly seized back the lead in the next frame, jumping all over starter Zac Kristofak. The freshman starter, who’s outstanding 16-inning scoreless streak ended last weekend, looked the least effective compared to his recent weeks.
Vandy put it together for a big inning in the second, but UGA kept the pace through three. Putting single runs together in three consecutive frames, Georgia was capable of winning this game and the series. But things fell apart for Ryan Avidano, who relieved Kristofak, as he loaded the bases with a walk and consecutive singles. Avidano walked in Vanderbilt’s go-ahead run before getting yanked for Blakely Brown.
With a big mess to clean up and only one out on the scoreboard, Brown’s first pitch was singled to the outfield and the Commodores doubled the Dawgs score. After four innings, Vandy 6 Georgia 3.
The Commodores put up more runs in the sixth, but again the Dawgs kept pace with two of their own in the bottom half of the inning. Unable to keep Vanderbilt’s bats silent, they would keep adding runs on Georgia’s mistakes to the tune of a 10-5 victory.
Next, Georgia travels down 316 and 85 South to pay Georgia Tech their annual visit. Tech has been one of the few teams that Georgia has had success against, winning four of the last five against.