Baseball: Alabama uses quick start to defeat Georgia in opening round of SEC Tournament
HOOVER, AL. — It took nearly six hours, but No. 11-seed Alabama defeated No. 6-seed Georgia 5-3 in Tuesday's opening round of the 2022 SEC Baseball Tournament at the Hoover Met.
The Bulldogs started Luke Wagner on the mound and the Crimson Tide bats got the best of him.
They had RBI hits from Andrew Pickney, William Hamiter and Zane Denton to take a 3-0 lead after the top half of the first inning. That fast start gave them a lot of momentum.
That juice flowed over into the second inning when Alabama added two more runs to take a 5-0 lead before Wagner was pulled and the Bulldogs brought in freshman right-hander Chandler Marsh.
“I thought the game was won and lost in the first two innings,” said Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin. “We get off to a slow start and that's what I said to the team in right field before we started. It was ‘it's 9:30 in the morning, who's going to start, who's going to come out of the gate ready to play,’ and next thing you know it's 5-0 really quick.”
Due to inclement weather, the game was postponed for nearly three hours. It resumed with Georgia trailing 5-1 after sophomore Parks Harber homered in the bottom of the second.
Still, the rain delay couldn’t help the Bulldogs overcome their slow start.
Crimson Tide pitcher Ben Hess provided four straight scoreless innings of work for his squad. He retired 12 straight Georgia hitters and racked up 10 strikeouts while doing so.
Hess was able to keep Georgia’s offensive attack off-balance until the bottom of the seventh, which is when the Bulldogs finally broke through and got a runner on base as Harber singled.
After Harber advanced to first, Chaney Rogers walked during the next at-bat. So, that’s when Alabama looked to reliever Brock Guffey, who stranded both baserunners and got out of the jam.
Georgia remained in the game at that point due to the stellar performance of Jaden Woods. He followed Marsh, pitching four scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and two walks while striking out seven.
The Bulldogs scored two runs in the top of the eighth as Connor Tate hit a two-run blast. That cut Alabama’s deficit to two and gave them some hope heading into the ninth inning.
Regardless, it wasn’t enough as the Crimson Tide’s pitching staff got Georgia to go quietly in its final offensive frame. They totaled 17 strikeouts on the day, with each hitter having at least one. The Bulldogs also had seven-of-nine batters with at least two or more strikeouts.
“As poorly as I felt like we were playing, we're still in the baseball game,” Stricklin said. “I thought Ben (Hess) for them did a great job of kind of shutting us down. Really, really good stuff. I thought Guffey was really good. Their bullpen is very, very accomplished. The bottom line is we got beat. We got outplayed. It's disappointing, but I know we've got more to play for, and we're going to rest up, get healthy and get ready for next week.”
The Bulldogs’ pitching staff slowed down and haltered the Crimson Tide's offensive attack after two innings, but the bats for Georgia never picked up a consistent pace in the contest.
“Well, we all faced the same challenge, Alabama had the same wake-up call that we did,” Stricklin said. “They ate breakfast the same time we did. The bottom line is it's just the mentality of getting yourself ready to go. If we get a ball that's hit at somebody, say ‘if’ all you want, but bottom line, they outplayed us in the first two innings, and that was a huge key to this game.”
Georgia (35-21) has had a rough run end to its 2022 season.
The Bulldogs lost their last four SEC series and were bounced in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Even so, they will likely make a playoff appearance, despite not hosting.
Georgia’s 15-15 record in conference play, No. 11 RPI and No. 2 strength of schedule is a strong indicator of how tough it is. The program will find out Monday, May 30 at noon EST if it’s playoff-bound.