Here are our favorite photos from Georgia Bulldogs vs. Florida State Seminoles @ NCAA Athens Regional
The main strength of Georgia’s season, its pitching staff, unraveled on the biggest stage and resulted in a 12-3 loss to third-seeded Florida State.
“They kicked our tail,” Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin said. “They got the best of us tonight, but that’s why it’s a double-elimination tournament. We have an opportunity to come back and do everything we can to win tomorrow.”
Those woes began early with ace pitcher Emerson Hancock. His early innings were strong, without blemishes and foreshadowed start mirroring many throughout the season. After striking out Robby Martin to the first inning, Hancock displayed a flash of fire as he turned toward the Florida State dugout.
He allowed a single in each of the first two innings, but a number of three-ball counts served as a warning sign. Hancock overthrew his slider, and the efficiency of a high-90s fastball progressively weakened. A home run by Seminoles’ senior Tim Becker — his third of the season, all of which have come in this regional — opened the floodgates. A large visiting crowd at Foley Field erupted on the shoulders of Becker, who was on the club baseball team last season.
“They had a good approach against me,” Hancock said. “They made me throw some tough pitches and made me get behind. I had to fight back into the count, but those are really good hitters.”
Florida State (38-21) continued to pile on the runs for a double-digit scoring output in consecutive days. Georgia (45-16) suffered its second-largest loss of the season and now must win three consecutive games (twice Sunday, once Monday) to stave off elimination on its home field. Georgia dropped last season’s regional against Duke after the Blue Devils faced similar circumstances in 2018.
Georgia’s offensive performance became an intriguing question entering Saturday’s play. Florida State sent out its ace C.J. Van Eyk, and hitting wasn’t the Bulldogs’ strength. Center fielder Tucker Maxwell wasted little time with a home run on the game’s second pitch. He has accrued five hits in the regional, but Georgia couldn’t gain enough traction to build upon it.
Once Georgia extended its lead to 2-0 on a Seminoles’ fielding error, Florida State found its sweet spot on Hancock. Becker was the first miscue, and a three RBI from Nander De Sedas over two innings allowed a tomahawk chop to percolate throughout the stands. (And no, this isn’t SunTrust Park.) Hancock allowed five runs and nine hits over four innings.
But once more, Georgia leans on the core of its team facing elimination.
“Our pitching is built for this,” center fielder Tucker Maxwell said. “All we have to do is play the same game and not try to do too much.”
One highlight for Georgia was Maxwell’s defense. If this were the big leagues and Gold Gloves were distributed on a game-by-game basis, Maxwell would’ve won it with his Andruw Jones-like catches.
Maxwell’s defensive showcase began with a sliding catch to prevent Mike Salvatore from a single. He followed it with a home run-saving grab off of Carter Smith’s bat. Maxwell’s final highlight is one that sent a Foley Field crowd of over 3,000 into a gasp. He crashed up against the wall to rob Martin of a home run, then threw a dart to Hancock who relayed it to first baseman Patrick Sullivan. Reese Albert was out on the play on an 8-1-3 reverse-force double play, quite the rarity and Sportscenter-quality play. Salvatore scored on the play as he crossed home plate prior to the second out being recorded.
“I was just trying to catch the ball,” Maxwell said. “He didn’t know if I was going to catch it, and I didn’t know if I would either. I just happened to go up against the wall and catch it.”
Added Hancock: “I saw the runner break toward second and knew Max caught it. It went over LJ’s (Talley) head, and I thought ‘I’m going to try and get this.’ I just reacted to it.”
Randon Jernigan joined in on the act with three eighth-inning diving catches.
“He played his tail off, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before,” Stricklin said. “The crowd gave him a standing ovation he deserved. That shows our kids have fight in them.”
After the third inning, Georgia’s crowd was silenced and the bullpen continued the staff’s struggles. Ryan Webb allowed five runs over one-third of an inning. Head coach Scott Stricklin opted to turn to the back of his relief corps, allowing Adam Goodman and Jack Gowen to receive work.
Georgia finds itself in a win-or-stay-home situation and must win three times to win a regional it hosted. The first test comes Sunday at noon vs. Florida Atlantic, which knocked off Mercer 10-6 to advance.
“It’s important not to play desperate, because we have a really good ball club with a lot of experience,” Stricklin said. “We’re going to play our best, and that’s loose. We are going our work cut out for us, but have to score some runs to beat Florida Atlantic.”