BASEBALL: Previewing Opening Day for the Diamond Dogs 2020 Season, One of High Expectations

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BASEBALL: Previewing Opening Day for the Diamond Dogs 2020 Season, One of High Expectations

UGA baseball's Mason Meadows (30) | Georgia-Florida Exhibition Game | November 01, 2019 | Jacksonville, FL
UGA baseball’s Mason Meadows (30) | Georgia-Florida Exhibition Game | November 01, 2019 | Jacksonville, FL

Georgia opens up its 2020 college baseball season this afternoon, Friday, at 5:00 p.m. ET hosting the University of Richmond for a three-game weekend series at Foley Field.

LOCATION

Foley Field (3,291)

SCHEDULE 

GAME 1: Friday, Feb. 14th at 5:00 p.m.

GAME 2: Saturday, Feb. 15th at 2:00 p.m

GAME 3: Sunday, Feb. 16th at 1:00 p.m.

STARTING PITCHERS 

GAME 1, Friday: For Georgia, RH Emerson Hancock vs. Richmond RH Tim Miller

GAME 2, Saturday: For Georgia, RH Cole Wilcox vs. Richmond RH Collin Lowe

GAME 3, Sunday: For Georgia, LH C.J. Smith (3-3, 4.30) vs. Richmond RH Jacob Marcus

TV & LIVE STREAM BROADCASTING INFO

SEC Network + with Jeff Dantzler and David Johnston

GAME 1 live stream

GAME 2 live stream

GAME 3 live stream

RADIO on the Georgia Bulldog Sports Radio Network

960 AM-WRFC and selected affiliates with Jeff Dantzler & David Johnston

FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER

@BaseballUGA

SERIES HISTORY

In the series history with the Spiders, Georgia leads 2-0, winning both games here in 1987 by a score of 15-4 and 15-2 respectively. Braves’ and Falcons’ fans might be familiar with a former Richmond leadoff hitter back then, two-sport star Brian Jordan who went on to play for the Atlanta Falcons at defensive back from 1989-91 in the NFL and from 1999-2001 as well as 2005-2006 for the Atlanta Braves in MLB. Back in ’87, Jordan went 0-for-4 with a walk and four putouts in the two-game series with Georgia.

TOP-10 RANKINGS AND HIGH EXPECTATIONS

The Diamond Dogs are coming off a 2019 season that saw them go 46-17 overall and 21-9 in conference play, finishing second behind Vanderbilt in the SEC. Georgia’s home-field advantage was intimidating for opponents as the Bulldogs boasted a 21-3 record at Foley, a winning percentage that the team will look to build on for this season.

Coming off last year’s success, there are a lot of high expectations for this Diamond Dogs team, who come in a consensus preseason top-10. Georgia is ranked No. 4 in USA TODAY Sports preseason baseball coaches top-25 poll, No. 5 in the D1Baseball.com poll, and No. 7 in the Baseball America preseason poll.

And because of those expectations, Bulldawg Illustrated’s Lance McCurley has been counting us all down to opening day with our Five Reasons Why Omaha Is Realistic for Georgia Baseball.

Part I: The Return of a Strong Pitching Staff

Part II: C.J. Smith’s Versatility

Part III: The Tate Twins’ Time to Shine

Part IV: The Reliability of Mason Meadows

Part V: Tucker Bradley’s Star Power

PITCHING

One of Georgia’s biggest strengths last season was the pitching staff which allowed the second-fewest hits per nine innings in the country with 6.40 last season with a 3.24 Earned Run Average (ERA). That ERA was fourth-best nationally and the second-best in school history behind the 1958 team’s 2.97. UGA’s bullpen will be strong once again and the Diamond Dogs will lean on the arms of junior right-hander Emerson Hancock (8-3, 1.99 ERA), sophomore right-hander Cole Wilcox (3-2, 4.07 ERA), and junior left-hander C.J. Smith (3-3, 4.30 ERA).

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And Smith isn’t just a weapon on the mound, he can provide offense from behind the plate with the bat in his hand. As a freshman in 2018, Smith batted .300 with one home run and nine RBI in 80 at-bats. While he didn’t have the same success at the plate last season as a sophomore with only 27 at-bats because his season was cut short due to a back injury last April, he is ready to return to the dominance he had as a freshman.

FIELDING

Of course, behind every good pitching staff is solid defense, and the Bulldogs certainly played some defense last season with a school-record .980 fielding percentage in 2019. Shortstop Cam Shepherd, first baseman Patrick Sullivan, and catcher Mason Meadows were the core of the Diamond Dogs’ defense. In addition to those three veterans, freshman Randon Jernigan flashed his glove and speed, fielding .986 with just one error in 72 total chances.

Meadows has been “Mr. Reliable” for Georgia. Entering this year as a redshirt junior, Meadows has appeared in 97 games for the Bulldogs, starting 84 behind the plate at catcher. He set a school-record .998 fielding percentage in 2018 and followed that up with a .997 fielding percentage last season in 2019 where he had 323 putouts, 41 assists, and just one error in 365 total chances. Plus, Meadows threw out 55% of would-be base stealers (11-for-20).

UGA baseball team's Connor Tate (23) and Randon Jernigan (4) | Georgia-Florida Exhibition Game | November 01, 2019 | Jacksonville, FL
UGA baseball team’s Connor Tate (23) and Randon Jernigan (4) | Georgia-Florida Exhibition Game | November 01, 2019 | Jacksonville, FL

OFFENSE

The Georgia offense must replace its top three hitters from a year ago which included John Cable, Aaron Schunk, and LJ Talley. The Bulldogs averaged 6.4 runs a game last year while batting .272 with 75 home runs. Redshirt junior Riley King returns as a seasoned run-producer in the middle of the order where he started 63 games batting .295 with 8 homers and 43 RBIs. We mentioned Cam Shepherd‘s defense and fielding earlier, but he also hit eight home runs last year. Like Shepherd, fifth-year senior Patrick Sullivan not only returns his glove but he is also coming off a 2019 season where he batted .263 with eight doubles, three home runs, and 24 RBIs in 50 games including 48 starts.

While not as experienced as King, Shepherd, and Sullivan, the Tate twins of Connor and Cole are two other names to watch out for. As a redshirt freshman DH, Connor Tate batted .270 with five doubles, three home runs, and 19 RBIs in 74 at-bats. Connor was especially good from the plate in SEC play batting .333 (10-for-30) with a home run and 12 RBIs. The speedy sophomore Randon Jernigan looks to build on his freshman campaign where he batted .247 batting average was especially dangerous stealing bases going 11-of-14 in 2019. The veteran group of King, Shepherd, and Sullivan along with the Tate twins and Jernigan should be able to bolster the Bulldog bats in 2020 which will feature some new, but talented faces.

Some of those “new faces” in the lineup are outfielder Ben Anderson (OF), Garrett Blaylock (3B), Tucker Bradley (OF). Anderson sat out last year as a transfer after earning Freshman All-America honors at Furman in 2018. Blaylock began his career at Vanderbilt and played last year for St. Johns River State College in Florida. Bradley missed most of 2019 with a shoulder injury but is now healthy.

Other newcomers to watch include freshman infielder Buddy Floyd, outfielder Kaden Fowler (redshirt junior), catcher Kale Ledford (junior transfer) and pitchers Garrett Brown (redshirt freshman), Jonathan CannonMichael Polk, and Will Childers.

For the full Georgia vs. Richmond baseball series game notes, CLICK HERE.

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The University of Georgia 1991-1994. Lanier Tech 2009-2012. Writer and graphic artist covering UGA athletics, college football, and recruiting. Peach cobbler fears me!