Scott Stricklin knew the Georgia-Georgia Tech series from the vantage point of the Yellow Jackets’ dugout for five seasons early in his coaching career when he served as an assistant under mentor Danny Hall.
The first-year Georgia coach saw it from a different angle on Tuesday night and his new team delivered a win.
Freshman pitcher Robert Tyler produced a gem with eight shutout innings and catcher Brandon Stephens knocked in the game’s only run with a two-out single to center in the bottom of the ninth as Georgia players streamed onto the field to celebrate a 1-0 win at Foley Field.
“I’m thrilled for our kids, I’m thrilled for Georgia to get that win,” Stricklin said. “It’s a big one for us, it’s a big one for our team. We’re starting to feel better about ourselves right now and I think that’s important.”
Georgia (6-6) won its fourth straight game and after a 1-5 start.
On a chilly night with temperatures below 40, the Bulldogs rode the hot pitching of Tyler, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-hander from Crisp County High School who was a 28th round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles last year.
In just his second college start, Tyler allowed Georgia Tech (7-5) to just two hits over eight innings while striking out five and walking one.
“As a freshman to come out here and pitch on TV against Georgia Tech in a game like this and pitch that well is just unbelievable,” said Stephens, a junior. “We love playing Tech and that’s always a fun game and to get the win at home on a cold night like tonight when no one’s scoring any runs is just awesome.”
Tyler threw 100 pitches. He was throwing 96 miles per hour in the first inning and still hit 92 in the eighth inning.
“It’s scary to think he’s only a freshman,” Stricklin said. “He throws a lot of strikes, he throws three pitches for strikes. He doesn’t back down from a challenge.”
Tyler said his breaking ball and change-up weren’t sharp early so he had to get ahead with his fastball.
“My arm didn’t feel as good as it usually does, but your adrenaline gets pumping and you just get in the moment and start throwing,” Tyler said. “It’s a dream come true. Everybody dreams of playing against Georgia Tech if you’re a Dawg fan.”
Tyler was relieved after eight innings by Jared Cheek (2-2), who struck out the first two batters he faced and then after giving up a single, induced a ground out.
In the bottom of the ninth, designated hitter Zack Bowers (3-for-3) drew a one-out walk from lefty Tanner Shelton and was pinch run by Sean McLaughlin. After Daniel Nichols fouled out, Hall turned to right-hander Dusty Isaacs to face Stephens who was 0-for-3 in his first three plate appearances.
On Isaacs’ first pitch, McClaughlin stole second and advanced to third on an error on a high throw from catcher Mitch Earnest.
Hall came out to argue catcher’s interference.
“He definitely hit something,” Hall said. “My catcher’s generally not going to throw the ball into center field but the umpire felt like their guy was in the box. Until I see a replay, I’m not really going to know. It’s a tough way to lose a game for sure.”
Said Stricklin: “It looked like it was a high and inside pitch. The catcher went that direction a little bit. The hitter swung at it. I don’t know. I’ll have to see it. You hate for it to end that way.”
Stephens hit the second pitch he saw to center and was mobbed by teammates after rounding first.
“The first pitch was a fastball and I know he’s got great command of his slider,” Stephens said. “That ‘s what I was looking for right there and got it and stayed through the middle and put a good swing on it.”
Starter Alex Cruz limited Georgia to five hits in five innings and reliever Jonathan Roberts followed with three more innings of shutout ball on two hits.
“It was going to come down to whoever got a hit,” Hall said. “We had a guy in scoring position a couple of times and couldn’t get him in.”
The Bulldogs evened their record at .500 for the first time since splitting a double-header to open the season on Feb. 15.
The Bulldogs get back at it today at 6 p.m. when they host Charleston Southern (10-3).
“I think we can be a really good team,” Stricklin said. “We need to remain consistent and humble and do all the things that we need to do to become a good team, but yeah, it feels really good to beat your rival, no question.”
Notes: The teams will play twice more this season, at Georgia Tech on April 15 and at Turner Field on May 13. …Stricklin played for Hall at Kent State from 1991-93 and coached there from 2005-13 before coming to Georgia. …Bulldogs football coach Mark Richt threw out the ceremonial first pitch that was low and outside. Richt is 12-1 against Georgia Tech. … This game was quite a contrast to the last time the teams played-a 14-13 Georgia win in 11 innings on May 14 at Georgia Tech The teams combined for 33 hits that day. They had 11 this time.