Diamond Dogs open season with doubleheader split

It was the start Georgia baseball coach Scott Stricklin wanted, but he didn’t have to wait long to get a better ending.

“I told them the great thing about baseball is you get to turn around and play a game really quickly,” Stricklin said. “It’s not like football where you have to wait a week. You get to play right away.”

The Stricklin era began with a 9-3 loss, but was followed by an 11-3 win in Saturday’s season-opening doubleheader against Georgia Southern (1-1).

Georgia (1-1) opened up with a weak offensive performance in game one, but bounced back with a strong outing in game two during its opening weekend series at Foley Field.

The Bulldogs countered its three-run opening game by scoring seven runs through two innings of game two to take a quick 7-0 lead.

“We all knew that wasn’t the way we wanted to start,” junior left fielder Hunter Cole said. “That was pretty apparent. They came out and swung the bats well in the first game and we didn’t. (Stricklin) just told us to kind of shake it off and we had a great day to play two baseball games.”

The Eagles put themselves in the scoring column first in Saturday’s opening game as Chase Griffin crossed home plate following a single to center field by Stryker Brown in the top of the second inning. Following the single, the bases remained loaded for Georgia Southern with only one out.

Georgia Southern capitalized on the scoring opportunity as Dalton Busby’s single to left field sent Hunter Thomas and Ryan Cleveland home to put Georgia Southern out front by three runs.

With runners on first and second base, Georgia’s starting pitcher, Sean McLaughlin, had to buckle down. However, Kody Adams reached first on a fielder’s choice as Brown advanced to third, leading Georgia to make its first pitching change of the day. McLaughlin exited the game as redshirt sophomore David Sosebee took the mound.

Sosebee, a White County alum from Cleveland, Ga., allowed a shot up the middle to center field from Ben Morgan, which led to runners sitting on first and third as Brown scored Georgia Southern’s fourth run of the inning.

Sosebee held the Eagles to four in the second as his focus late in the inning allowed him to strike out Aaron Mizell looking for the third and final out.

With Georgia trailing by four, Hunter Cole had the task of earning some momentum on the offensive end. Georgia Southern’s starting pitcher Sam Howard, however, was dialed in, just as Stricklin expected. Early in the week, Stricklin spoke of the performance he expected Georgia Southern’s ace to provide.

“He can throw the ball in the low 90s,” Stricklin said on Wednesday afternoon. “He’ll have some pro scouts here looking at him, so he’s a professional prospect that can really pitch. We’re going to have our hands full with him on the mound.”

Georgia did just that.

Howard finished with seven strikeouts and no earned runs through five innings in his first win of the season, while Georgia’s McLaughlin allowed four earned runs and four hits in 1.2 innings pitched to finish with his first loss of 2014.

“We just couldn’t get on base in game one,” Stricklin said. “When you fall behind 3-0 really quick and you can’t get on base it’s tough to do anything. We didn’t do anything in game one because we couldn’t. We didn’t have anybody on base and that’s a credit to Sam Howard.”

Howard forced Hunter Cole and Jess Posey to ground out to shortstop and second base for two quick outs.

Georgia designated hitter Zack Bowers was left to work with two outs and no runners on the base path. Bowers fell short of the tough task as Howard struck him out looking to end the inning.

With two outs in the top of the third inning, Garrett Chapman’s plate appearance resulted in a single to left field as Cleveland advanced to second. With a runner in scoring position for Georgia Southern and two outs, Brown stepped to the plate to face Sosebee. Sosebee won that battle as he forced Brown to fly out to second baseman Cody McCance for the final out of the inning’s top half.

Heath Holder made quick work in the bottom of the third by singling to center field on Howard’s first pitch of the inning.

Looking to get the Bulldogs on the scoreboard, McCance struck out with Holder on second base. With two outs and McCance in scoring position, Stephen Wrenn grounded to second base for the third out of the inning.

With two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, Hunter Cole doubled to center to give Georgia a chance to get on the board with Posey at the plate. Cole’s double gave Georgia its second hit of the game, and an opportunity to pull closer to the Eagles who led by four. Facing a 1-2 count, Posey whiffed on Howard’s offer to end the inning with Georgia still trailing by four.

With no outs in the top of the fifth, Georgia Southern’s offense continued to put runners in position to extend its lead. Mizell led off the inning with a single to right field and advanced to third after Griffin doubled to right.

With runners in scoring position, Sosebee was up in a 2-2 count against Cleveland. Cleveland fouled the following pitch off his foot to keep the count alive, but watched the next breaking ball go by for a Sosebee strikeout.

In a crucial situation where Georgia Southern’s offense was capable of busting its lead wide open, Sosebee needed to be efficient. He forced Thomas to ground out for the second of the inning, but allowed Mizell to score the Eagles’ fifth run. However, Chapman grounded out to shortstop to end the inning. While Sosebee allowed a run in the top of the fifth, it could have been worse for the Bulldogs.

Sophomore Ryan Lawlor from Savannah, Ga. took the mound for Georgia in game two of Saturday’s double-header while right-hander Josh Wirsu got the start for the Eagles.

Georgia’s offense got out to a more aggressive start in game two. After Lawlor escaped the first inning without allowing a run, the Bulldogs’ offense was in business.

Wrenn singled to right field to start the inning, then followed his single up by stealing second and third base. The freshman from Marietta, Ga. then scored on Ward’s two-run home run to right field that put Georgia up 2-0; its first lead of the season and Ward’s first long ball. Ward wants to see aggressive play on the base path by his teammates from now on.

“That’s going to be our game plan all season, no matter who we’re playing,” Ward said. “We would have done it in the first game also; we just didn’t have any base runners.”

Ward went 2 for 4 in game two with one home run and batted in three runs. While he hit the Bulldogs’ only home run of the entire day, he says he may not make a habit of it.

“That’s cool, but I don’t think I’ll hit many of them. I’m not Hunter Cole,” Ward joked.

Georgia baseball returns to action on Sunday at 1 p.m. as the Bulldogs finish their opening weekend series with Georgia Southern at Foley Field.

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