Baseball: Diamond Dogs' season ends in a 'cruel' way at the hands of UNC
CHAPEL HILL, NC. — The No. 1-seed Tar Heels bested the Bulldogs 6-5, advancing to the Chapel Hill Regional final against No. 3-seed VCU.
Georgia trailed 6-2 entering the bottom of the ninth with its season on the line.
Bulldogs’ senior Cole Tate stayed hot and led off the frame with a single. Next, his twin brother, Connor, doubled off the top of the right-field wall, which put runners on second and third with no outs.
After Parks Harber grounded out and both runners failed to advance, Chaney Rogers stepped up to the plate.
The senior left-handed slugger gave Georgia’s dugout life with a three-run blast, pulling the Bulldogs to within one. Nonetheless, the heartbreak came during the next at-bat with one out.
Senior Josh McAllister hit a deep shot to center field, but Tar Heels’ center fielder Vance Honeycutt made an athletic grab for the second out and crushed Georgia’s chance of tying the contest.
As the momentum drained out of the Bulldogs, sophomore Corey Collins struck out during the next at-bat to end the contest. It was a bitter taste to a disappointing last two months of the season.
Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin was emotional after the loss.
“It’s a cruel game to have that happen,” Stricklin told the 960 The Ref radio broadcast. “Josh McAllister’s final at-bat in his career, he hits the ball over the fence, and the guy robs him. It’s a cruel game.”
The theme of the weekend for the Bulldogs was leaving runners on base. They left a team-high 14 stranded against VCU on Friday and a dozen versus UNC to conclude the regional on Sunday.
Stricklin chalked it up to a game of missed opportunities.
“We had guys on base all day long, but we just couldn’t find the hit to open it (the game) up,” Stricklin said. “They (our offense) just kept chipping away, getting one run here and one run there.”
Luke Wagner got the start on the mound but was replaced by relief pitcher Jaden Woods in the third. UGA trailed 4-0 before the sophomore left-hander could escape the top half of the inning.
The Bulldogs pulled to within three (4-1) in the bottom half of the frame as Rogers singled to right field, scoring Connor Tate. That gave Woods a little bit of energy heading into the fourth.
The Warner Robins, Ga., native provided UGA with two innings worth of scoreless work, although the Bulldogs’ bats couldn’t take advantage of that opportunity, and left several runners on base.
Woods’ luck ran out in the top of the fifth as UNC’s Tomas Frick hit a solo shot, giving the Tar Heels a 5-2 lead. He was pulled a few batters later and was replaced by senior closer Jack Gowen.
After consecutive singles to start the seventh, UNC added another run, which put the Bulldogs in a four-run hole. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to climb out of it, despite giving a valiant effort.
The ninth-year head coach felt like Georgia pitcher’s staff did a great job of keeping the Bulldogs afloat.
“I thought our pitching staff did a great job of keeping us in the game, but again, it’s a game of inches,” Stricklin said. “I quote my dad and that’s what he said all the time. That’s what it came down to.”
Stricklin acknowledged that his squad was a resilient bunch and fought hard until the last out.
“I’m just proud of the way we kept fighting and staying in there,” he said. “Cole (Tate), Connor (Tate) and Chaney (Rogers). All those seniors having those at-bats like that … We just kept fighting. That’s what this team is, which is a bunch of fighters. I love them and am really proud of them.”