Georgia players made it clear that they thought having manager Scott Stricklin back in the dugout this weekend following his battle with COVID would bring energy and leadership. It seemed that the energy carried all throughout Foley Field as Georgia came back to beat No. 14 South Carolina 5-3 in the opening game of a three-game set.
The Bulldogs have often struggled this season with winning the opening game of a weekend series, dating back to non-conference play. However, Georgia did not allow an early deficit to faze them, as it controlled multiple facets of Friday night’s game.
“Toughness, that is what the theme of practice was yesterday,” said head coach Scott Stricklin. “Toughness comes with two strikes, toughness comes with two outs, toughness comes when you’re behind. We needed to be the tougher team, and we found a way to be that today. That’s a really good team that we just beat.”
Luke Wagner got the start for the Bulldogs and looked the most comfortable that he’s been in SEC play. With C.J. Smith still out, Wagner appears to be Georgia’s consistent Friday night starter. Wagner pitched 3+ innings, striking out three batters and only allowing one hit. Wagner walked a batter on four pitches to start the fourth inning, which prompted Scott Stricklin to go to his bullpen sooner rather than later.
Another Freshman, Will Pearson relieved Wagner. Pearson could not duplicate the impactful performance that he showed on Tuesday against Clemson. With runners on first and second, South Carolina’s David Mendham hit an opposite-field home run over Riley King’s head to give the Gamecocks a 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth.
Georgia did not allow this game to become a replica of the Tennessee opener two weeks ago. The Bulldogs chipped their way back into the game behind a shutdown bullpen performance and timely hitting.
Georgia scored its first run on a solo home run from Connor Tate. The Bulldogs then rallied for a two-out single by Corey Collins that cut the deficit to 3-2. Georgia then loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh, giving Riley King an opportunity to change the game. It was not pretty but King did just that. With the infield in, he squeaked a single off the end of the bat that looked like someone hit a cue ball incorrectly in pool.
That brought in two runs, giving Georgia a 4-3 lead that it never gave away. Josh McAllister’s hot start to the season continued on Friday. McAllister went 3-4 on the night, improving his batting average to .362. That is the second-highest mark on the team, only trailing Connor Tate and was McAllister’s fourth three-hit game of the season.
“He’s a guy that goes out and battles, and I think a lot of guys look up to him for that,” said King on McAllister. “When you do that and play hard, good things happen and he’s playing really well.” Unfortunately for Georgia, McAllister appeared to hurt his hamstring in the seventh inning while running to first base. Stricklin says he’s unlikely to play tomorrow and will be questionable on Sunday.
Darryn Pasqua shined as well, getting through the eighth inning while only throwing six pitches. The final out of the inning was made on a diving putout by Parks Harber that might be on SportsCenter Saturday morning. Pasqua ran into a bit of trouble in the ninth through after a throwing error by Harber. Ben Harris came in with runners on first and third and got the Gamecocks to pop out, ending the game with some drama.
Ryan Webb will now start on Saturday with a chance to win the series. The Bulldogs improved to 18-7 (3-4) with the win on Friday. Saturday’s game will start at 2 p.m. at Foley Field.