Baseball: Beaten and battered, Georgia relies on young arms to beat LSU
With several key injuries to the pitching staff, the Bulldogs were able to overcome a bad start to beat the Tigers in the opening round of the SEC Tournament
Georgia pitcher and outfielder Luke Wagner (27) during the Georgia-LSU game in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. (Photo by Vasha Hunt)
Georgia freshman Luke Wagner took the hill on Tuesday evening and faced some adversity quickly as the first three LSU batters got on base.
Wagner then got the Tigers’ clean-up hitter Cade Doughty to ground out into a 6-4-3 double play, which proved to be a shift of momentum for the Bulldogs. Despite letting one run cross the plate, the lefthander from New Cumberland, Penn. was able to strike out Drew Bianco two batters later to end the top half of the first.
Georgia’s Ben Anderson led off the bottom of the first with a double, followed by Cole Tate with a single to center field. Then, Anderson scored on a ground out by Josh McAllister, which tied the game at 1-1. Freshman Corey Collins drew a walk while Riley King reached on a fielder’s choice.
On King’s drooper to third, Collins was thrown out at second, leaving runners on the corners for Garrett Blaylock, who walked. That left the bases loaded for Chaney Rogers, who announcer Jeff Dantzler refers to the 6-foot-1 senior as the “Chain Gang.” Rogers hit an outside offspeed pitch that sailed down the right-field line, scoring all three runners and giving Georgia a 4-1 lead.
Rogers said it was a sigh of relief getting those runs back in the top of the first.
That first inning was all Georgia (31-23, 14-17 SEC) needed from its offense to defeat LSU (34-22, 13-18) in the opening round of the SEC Tournament.
It was a victory that the Bulldogs needed badly, especially if they hope to clinch an NCAA Tournament berth. Tuesday’s night win in Hoover, Ala. certainly helps Georgia’s chances as a date with No. 1-ranked Arkansas looms on Wednesday.
“Yeah, it was honestly a due or die game for us,” Rogers said following the game. “We came out ready to play. In the first inning, we punched them in the mouth, and they held them. We kind of got swirly out there late and kind of got a little nervous, but the pitchers held them, and we got the W. So, it was a good game.”
The Bulldogs’ young pitching staff answered the call in a big way against the Tigers.
Wagner pitched 3.1 innings while allowing six hits and one earned run with four strikeouts. Freshman Jaden Woods, who earned SEC All-Freshman honors on Monday, was awarded the victory. The Warner Robins native threw nearly four innings and struck out five of the 10 hitters he faced.
Meanwhile, Ben Harris was brought in during the start of the eighth inning. The redshirt sophomore allowed LSU to load the bases with one out, although he struck out the last two batters, Zach Arnold and Bianco, to end the opposing threat. Junior Jack Gowen was brought in to close out the ninth and he retired the first three Tigers he encountered.
Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin was extremely proud of how his young pitching staff handled the adversity.
"Our pitchers were unbelievable tonight,” he said. Luke (Wagner) gave us exactly what we needed in a quality start. To get through the top of their order is really difficult. Their one-through-four hitters are as good as you'll see in the country. That was our biggest concern was navigating that, and that's why you saw Ben (Harris) come in in the eighth. “
Stricklin noted that Harris did an exceptional job, especially because those first four hitters were due up in the top of the eighth.
“He made it interesting, and he gutted it out,” Strick said. “Then, Jack Gowen came in and got his first save. I also can't say enough about Jaden Woods. He was outstanding. It was all about the pitching today, and we made the plays when we needed to, and Chaney (Rogers) came through with a big, big hit. This is a huge win for our program."