UGA falls to Florida State, eliminated from NCAA Tournament: ‘Losing is awful.’
One can predict the success of a Cole Wilcox start fairly early. It took only two pitches for Georgia’s freshman to show signs of shakiness in a season-deciding rematch of Florida State.
Seminoles’ shortstop Mike Salvatore, who has wrecked Georgia pitching in an assortment of ways over the past 24 hours, laced a leadoff single. Florida State right fielder Reese Albert followed with a home run in the territory of cracking a parked car’s windshield. Those shaky trends followed as Wilcox’s lack of fastball command led to Georgia dropping a 10-1 decision to Florida State.
The third-seeded Seminoles (39-21) beat Georgia (46-17) twice to clinch a spot in the NCAA super regionals against the Baton Rouge Regional’s victor. Georgia had to win two consecutive games against its ACC foe to advance, but fell short in its second elimination contest. Florida State outscored Georgia 22-3 in two games.
For two straight seasons, Georgia wrote its tournament script in similar fashion: bowing out of a NCAA regional after being named a national seed.
“I hate that it ended that way,” Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin said. “It just wasn’t our day, and I don’t know if we could’ve played much better in the noon game. It hurts really bad, and I hurt for our players, fans, alumni and all of the people that support us. But we will bounce back.”
Back to Wilcox, who Georgia rightfully entrusted with such pressure-packed stakes with a strong finish to the season. His fastball that touches 100 mph has frequently been an advantage, but showed its detrimental side after a strong approach by the Seminoles’ lineup. Wilcox allowed five walks in 3.2 innings, and uncharacteristic mistakes by Georgia’s defense transformed those miscues into runs.
“He had trouble with his fastball command,” Stricklin said. “We went to more off-speed pitches to settle him in there. He made some good ones, but also left some over the plate and walked a couple guys. The free passes are going to kill you, and that’s what got us today.”
Georgia tallied three errors on the evening, which is far from its norm. But it is a trend that began against Ole Miss in the SEC tournament. The biggest momentum swing in Florida State’s favor came after Albert — there’s that guy again — singled after a grounder went through Aaron Schunk and was eventually overthrown by Tucker Maxwell. A five-run deficit for Georgia’s offense became insurmountable.
Schunk and was eventually overthrown by Tucker Maxwell. A five-run deficit for Georgia’s offense became insurmountable.
“That’s just not us,” Stricklin said. “We set a record for fielding and we’re so good defensively. We weren’t that way today, and in order to beat Florida State, we would’ve had to be near perfect.”
That wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. Florida State starter Conor Grady has a record of command issues, and the Bulldogs drew walks. In the third and fifth innings, Georgia recorded a leadoff single. But then Grady’s best friend since the day he picked up a baseball — a double play — met him at Foley Field and squandered any traction.
One temporary offensive surge that allowed a bit of amazement to percolate, however, was a solo home run by Maxwell. His zinger landed over the right field bleachers and over the fence that divides the field from a fraternity “greenhouse.” It marked his third home run of the regional.
“It hurts, but that guy (Grady) threw well,” departing designated hitter John Cable said. “He kept us off-balance all game and was throwing every pitch he had for a strike. That’s the way baseball goes sometimes.”
Georgia must’ve exhausted most of its run allotment in the blowout win over Florida Atlantic. Nevertheless, a switch to the bullpen didn’t hold for the Bulldogs to mount a comeback. Junior Zac Kristofak entered for the first time this regional, and Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin rightfully had confidence in his bullpen depth. But Kristofak allowed four runs to score, and Salvatore began another surge with a two RBI double.
As the No. 4 national seed, Georgia’s expectation lay in making its first trip to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series for the first time since 2008. Sunday’s earlier-than-anticipated exit likely serves as a disappointment inside the team locker room.
“You never know what can happen,” Kristofak said. “We felt really good coming in, but if you don’t play your best in this tournament, you’re not going to win. We found that out the hard way again.”
Inside the other dugout, however the swan song for Florida State head coach Mike Martin turns itself into an appealing Cinderella story.