Baseball: Bulldogs rely on relief pitching in comeback to sweep series

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Baseball: Bulldogs rely on relief pitching in comeback to sweep series

Georgia pitcher C.J. Smith (5) during a game against Richmond at Foley Field in Athens, Ga., on Sun., Feb. 16, 2020. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith)
Georgia pitcher C.J. Smith (5) during a game against Richmond at Foley Field in Athens, Ga., on Sun., Feb. 16, 2020. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith)

Smith’s rough first outing

C.J. Smith, the 6-foot-1 native of Royston, Georgia, struggled in his first start of the season as the Sunday pitcher in the Bulldogs’ rotation. He finished with four strikeouts, three walks, allowing three hits and three earned runs in four innings pitched. 

Smith started off the game strong retiring three-out-of-four batters in the top of the first throwing 17 pitches. He retired the side in the second throwing for another scoreless inning. The Bulldogs found themselves in some trouble in third as Richmond had two runners on base when Dom Toso hit his second home run of the weekend giving them a 3-0. 

Smith seemed rattled but was able to put away the next three batters to retire the side. Georgia held strong defensively in the fourth, as Smith struck out two batters and Richmond left one runner left on base. 

“C.J. Smith was good today, but he just fell behind the count a little bit,” said head coach Scott Stricklin. “He labored a little bit, and when he fell behind in the count that’s why we decided to make the switch.”

Smith was a two-way player for the Bulldogs the last two seasons, but pitching will be his main focus this year. He is also returning from a back injury he suffered last April and Stricklin also talked about how Smith is going to have to ease his way back into the lineup. 

“..That’s the first time that C.J. Smith he’s pitched in a long time,” said Stricklin. “He didn’t pitch at all this summer, he didn’t pitch at all this fall. So that’s the first competitive pitch since Mississippi State last spring So it’s been almost ten months since he’s pitched. 

UGA Baseball: Scott Stricklin Georgia vs Richmond – February 16th, 2020

“So, I’m excited he went out there and gave us four innings, and he gave us a chance to win. It wasn’t his best effort, but still he grinded it out. That’s what C.J. does When he doesn’t have his best stuff he finds ways to get people out so he was good enough for us.”

Bulldogs struggle early, but bats wake up in comeback

Richmond starting pitcher Jacob Marcus shut the Bulldogs down the first three innings allowing one hit as they left two runners on base. Marcus was able to do something no Richmond pitcher was able to do Saturday, and that was shutdown leadoff hitter Ben Anderson in his first two at-bats. Anderson reached base all five times he stepped up to the plate Saturday afternoon.

Georgia finally was able to scratch off a run in the bottom half of the fourth inning as designated hitter Tucker Bradley scored on a first basemen Patrick Sullivan’s single. Sullivan was able to reach third on right fielder Chaney Roger’s blooper into right-center, but both runners were stranded on base. That run did cut Richmond’s lead to 3-1, at that point.  

Georgia trailed 4-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth until they were able to score two runs in the bottom half of the inning. Anderson drew a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Shortstop Cam Shepherd and Bradley loaded the bases on consecutive walks before freshman Garrett Blaylock hit a sacrifice fly bringing in Anderson. A wild pitch brought in Shepherd as Georgia trailed 4-3, heading into the sixth inning.

Rogers started off the next inning with his second single of the game. He scored on a Shane Marshall sacrifice bunt that was overthrown by Richmond’s pitcher letting him reach second. Anderson came up with a  double driving in Marshall with just one out, and that hit gave Georgia a 5-4 lead heading into the seventh.  

“We’ve got some fight,” Stricklin said when asked about what he learned about his team this weekend. “We did a good job against a team that can compete. I wouldn’t be shocked if they’ll be in a regional.”

This was Georgia’s second comeback win of the weekend, and Stricklin said that his team did a really good of job of getting on base, then taking advantage of the opportunities they were given.

“For us to be down 6-2 on Friday, Emerson (Hancock) is out, and Ryan Webb comes in and wins the game for us,” Stricklin said. “Then today, they’ve got the lead 3-0 and all the momentum. Then C.J. Smith comes out of the game. Once again, our bullpen takes charge and we also had really good at-bats finding ways to win.

Another freshman comes up big in relief 

Freshman right-hander Will Childers made his college debut when he replaced Pasqua at the start of the sixth inning. The Lakeside High School product got his first career strikeout facing his batter as he took down Richmond’s Justin Cook swinging. He then retired the side scoreless as Toso flew out to right field. 

Childers pitched an impressive seventh inning, striking out two more batters and only allowing one hit. The Spiders left one runner on base as second basemen Dan Leckie singled off Childers. 

Childers started the eighth off strong getting two quick outs but was pulled after walking Richmond’s Mark Ready. Tucker Bradley came in to relieve Childers as he also pitched in the ninth closing out the game. 

“I think that was the biggest question coming in was what we had in our bullpen. Losing Zac and Sean, I think we stepped up to the occasion really. [John] Cannon and [Will] Childers came in as a freshman, and really didn’t leave any question that they were better than them,” said Bradley. 

In addition to his three strikeouts, Childers finished allowing no runs in nearly three full innings pitched. Childers, who was a 30th round draft pick out of high school by the Arizona Diamonds, said after the game that he was feeling more confident after his first outing. 

“I had a little juice coming out of the bullpen and I felt good,” said Childers. “..Coming in for the first time felt awesome. My arm felt really good and my fastball felt really good.” 

UGA Baseball: Will Childers Interview Georgia vs Richmond – February 16, 2020

He also didn’t seem phased going up against a Division I team like Richmond. 

“No, this wasn’t too big,” said Childers. “We were ready to play. Coach Stricklin said, especially about today, that good teams win series, but great teams sweep.” 

Bradley also credited the exhibition game Georgia played in Jacksonville against Florida as a reason why Childers or Cannon weren’t spooked this weekend. 

UGA Baseball: Tucker Bradley Interview Georgia vs Richmond – February 16th, 2020

“..Playing down there in front of 9,000 people didn’t phase them, and I think playing in this environment is nothing for them.

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.