‘We got a chance to set a record tomorrow,’ Stricklin says after 12-2 win over Alabama
Throughout three-and-a-half innings, patience progressively wilted in Georgia’s dugout. Once the final pitch of Tucker Maxwell’s fourth inning at-bat flung through the strike zone, any remaining patience busted like a fragile object crashing to a concrete surface.
A hanging curveball was taken atop the strike zone, and Maxwell received the same call two pitches prior. Georgia’s starting pitcher Tony Locey, however, didn’t receive such benefits. Maxwell quickly turned toward the Bulldogs’ dugout in dismay. His arm jolted downward with the outfielder’s bat tightly in grasp.
Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin joined Maxwell in barking toward home-plate umpire Jeff Gosney. Most of the players perched themselves upon the dugout railing, but Locey paced. He held a baseball in his left hand, and back-and-forth he went as utterances of disbelief spilled from the junior’s mouth.
As Locey wandered, a specific first-inning sequence popped into his head. He tried to set the tone against Morgan McCullough, Alabama’s No. 2 hitter. Locey darted a top-of-the-zone pitch toward the mitt of freshman catcher Shane Marshall with hopes of recording a strikeout. Gosney remained motionless and McCullough waltzed toward first base with an accompaniment of displeasing crowd noise from the Foley Field supporters.
“It’s tough to pitch in this league, because you are not only facing great hitters,” Locey said, “you’re facing great umpires, too. I’m battling against two guys when I’m on the mound, and that’s just reality. They’re humans and make mistakes, but it got tight.”
Each of Locey’s innings presented similar challenges, but the fiery starter made it through six of them. He walked off of the mound allowing one run, four hits and four walks in Georgia’s (41-14, 20-9 SEC) 12-2 win over Alabama. A performance that serves as a testament to Locey’s type of season, he improved to 10-1 Friday night and becomes the first Bulldog pitcher to reach the feat since Michael Pallazone in 2011.
Locey welcomed run support to complement his final regular-season outing. Georgia scored two runs in six different innings. Bulldogs’ third baseman Aaron Schunk hit two home runs and designated hitter John Cable had a 5-for-5 showing.
But it was Locey who continued the trend of Georgia’s pitching dominance. Alabama didn’t comply to the strikeout shows that the flamethrowing Houston County product can put on display, and maybe some strike zone inconsistencies played part in that -- at least Locey believes so. Nevertheless, he overcame feeling “out of whack” to lead Georgia to its 20th victory in the SEC. There have been only two other Georgia teams to win 40 regular-season games or 20 conference games, and both of those groups reached the College World Series.
“I gave up one of the longest home runs I ever have today,” said Locey, referencing a third-inning solo home run by Alabama’s Tyler Gentry. “Hats off to him, because he hit it pretty good. Other than that, we kept scoring and I kept putting up zeroes.”
Before Locey found his rhythm, things were a bit dicey. Any inconsistencies from the umpire became lingering thoughts. Each pitch squeezed at length by Marshall was seemingly a disappointment for the battery. Locey, however, would flash a sly grin, snatch the baseball and rev it up again.
Georgia’s bullpen began to stir in the third inning, but Locey found a groove and some help. Riley King had yet another highlight play with a sliding catch in left field, and a sense of confidence permeated throughout the dugout.
“Tony’s biggest enemy is himself, because he fights and gets so frustrated sometimes,” Stricklin said. “He’s so competitive to where he overcomes those things. He really worked for that victory.”
As Locey watched his teammate face a questionable call, there was one thing on his mind: return to the mound and overcome an obstacle. That’s a storyline for his career, and it has led to becoming a top-tier arm for the Bulldogs entering the season’s crucial point.
“He’s a bulldog, because he goes out there and just competes,” Cable said. “He’s got a lot of swagger and it works for him.”