The start of Georgia’s SEC Tournament matchup vs. LSU was already delayed because of the length of the Alabama vs. South Carolina matchup right before. Then Georgia starter Luke Wagner faced a bases loaded situation with no outs in the top of the first.
It seemed like it was going to be a game with double-digit runs, especially when looking at the five combined runs for both teams at the end of the first inning. It actually turned out to be a game that was far from that. Both pitching staffs dominated for most of the night after the first, leaving Georgia with a 4-1 victory after all runs were scored in the opening frame.
“If you would have told me the final score was going to be 4-1 after the first inning, I wouldn’t believe you. That’s for sure,” said Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin.
A double play ball that was executed and a double play ball that was not executed ended up playing costly roles for both teams. When the bases were loaded for Wagner with no outs, he faced LSU’s Cade Doughty, who ended up grounding into a 6-4-3 double play. Although it put the Tigers on the board first, it also gave Georgia an opportunity to get out of the inning while limiting damage.
Wagner later forced Drew Bianco to strikeout swinging, which ended the top half of the inning. Georgia looked to respond immediately, loading the bases for senior outfielder Riley King with only one out. King grounded out hard to LSU’s third baseman on a play that seemed sure to be a 5-4-3 double play. However, the relay from the second baseman bounced in the dirt before the first baseman, allowing King to reach base safely and a run to score.
Garrett Blaylock then walked, which loaded the bases again. Chaney Rogers stepped to the plate as one of Georgia’s hottest hitters. Rogers took a 1-0 changeup deep to right field, which landed just short of the right field wall and allowed all three runs to come around and score. Rogers credited a conversation he had with a hitting coach in the Missouri series for his second-half turnaround at the plate.
“I kind of just caught fire,” said Rogers. “Ever since then, I’ve just felt comfortable in the box. Just getting the pitches I want to hit and putting good swings on them, so… it’s just kind of turned around for me honestly.”
Georgia’s pitching staff then settled in very nicely after that. Wagner pitched until the fourth inning, providing Georgia with exactly what it needed in the most important game of the year. Stricklin then turned to lefty reliever Jaden Woods, who pitched his best outing of the year.
Woods came in with runners on first and second and only one out, but was not fazed by the pressure. He retired all 10 batters he faced in his 3.2 innings of work, five of which came via strikeout. Georgia then turned to Ben Harris in the eighth inning, as he faced the top of the LSU lineup. Although the Tigers loaded the bases with one out, Harris rebounded with back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning. Jack Gowen set LSU down in order in the ninth to secure the victory.
“It was all about the pitching today,” said Stricklin. “We made the plays when we needed to, Chaney Rogers got the big hit, just a huge win for our program.”
This victory almost guarantees Georgia will make the NCAA Tournament as one of the 64 teams selected. Stricklin said he felt like this was a “play-in game” for the Bulldogs. It also marked the first time since 2005 that LSU was eliminated from the SEC Tournament without a win.
Next, UGA will be tasked with taking on No. 1 Arkansas on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in Hoover. Liam Sullivan will most likely be Georgia’s starting pitcher but the official decision will not be announced until later. The ‘Dawgs played Arkansas tough in Fayetteville, but now the Razorbacks will now have an extra day of rest.