Georgia made a move forward during its six-game, seven-day marathon last week, but Tuesday’s loss at home to Furman showed that the progress was closer to a step than a leap.
The Bulldogs hit the road for this weekend’s series against No. 5 Florida with some momentum on their side, just not as much as they would have liked.
“It’s hard to let (Tuesday’s loss) bog down what happened last week,” Georgia left-hander Alex Wood said. “Obviously, we didn’t want that to happen. But every now and then, especially coming off six games in seven days, stuff is going to happen. We don’t feel like it set us back at all going into a big weekend against Florida.”
Georgia (23-15, 7-8 Southeastern Conference) plays Florida (29-8, 9-6) in a three-game series. Game 1 starts at 7 p.m. today at McKethan Stadium. Today’s probable starters are Wood (5-1, 2.61 ERA) for Georgia and Florida right-hander Jonathan Crawford (4-1, 4.05). The Gators started the season 20-1 and were ranked No. 1 in the nation, but injuries to the weekend rotation have slowed the team’s momentum in conference play.
“Our biggest deal is, we’ve got to get out of our own way,” Georgia coach David Perno said. “We’ve got a couple of guys who the game is beating them up, not the opponent. Hopefully, they’ll make some strides this weekend. The game is wearing them down. They’re doing uncharacteristic things. They look out of place in the batter’s box sometimes. They look out of place on the mound at times. They’ve got to get out of their way and play baseball.”
The Georgia player struggling most might be senior second baseman Levi Hyams. He led the Bulldogs in batting last year with a .322 average, but has so far been mired in a year-long slump. Hyams enters this weekend batting .225 with two home runs and 19 RBIs.
“I’m trying to stay as positive as I possibly can,” Hyams said. “This is the worst year I’ve ever had, but I do know how this game is. All it takes is one game and one series to turn this around. My problem is trying everything instead of just going into the box and doing what I do. I’m overanalyzing it. I’m trying to break every little thing down, and you can’t do that. You’ve got to keep things simple because this game is hard enough as it is.”
Hyams’ slump has reached the point where Perno might sit Hyams in favor of freshman Nelson Ward, who is batting .297 with a .384 on-base percentage. Ward should see some work this weekend at least as a designated hitter.
“I take it as a challenge, but whatever is best for the team,” Hyams said. “If I’m not getting the job done, I want somebody in there who is. Nelly has been doing a good job, and I’m proud of him. I really want this team to go far, and if it takes another guy in there for me, then so be it. I’ll back him up just as much as any other guy on the field.”
Georgia went 4-2 last week and won two of three against Ole Miss. The Bulldogs had lost seven of the previous nine before that.
“We feel pretty confident right now,” Wood said. “We now know we can get the big inning when we need it because we did it last week. It’s not just coming from one or two guys, it’s everybody. It’s not just a matter of who does it, it’s a matter of when everybody’s going to do it from one through nine.”
Other changes might be in the works for the Bulldogs this week. Justin Bryan, who had a home run against Liberty on Monday, might start in the outfield. Freshman Hunter Cole missed two games this week because of a muscle strain in his rib cage and could be questionable. Perno also might move Blake Dieterich back to the bullpen after Dieterich gave up nine hits and five runs as a starter in an 8-3 loss to Ole Miss.
“Obviously last night (loss to Furman) put a sting to it,” Perno said. “You really would feel good about the strides, but we just seemed to be a little bit short against Furman. Hopefully, we’ll find a way a week from now or two weeks from now and say, ‘Hey, all right we’re in a good place and let’s keep moving.’ ”
Georgia at No. 5 Florida
WHEN: 7 p.m. today; 7 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.
WHERE: McKethan Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.
TV: Today and Saturday on CSS, Sunday on ESPN2.
RADIO: All games on 960-AM The Ref.
RECORDS: Georgia (23-15, 7-8 SEC); Florida (29-8, 9-6).
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS: Today — Georgia LHP Alex Wood (5-1, 2.61) vs. Florida RHP Jonathan Crawford (4-1, 4.05); Saturday — Georgia RHP Michael Palazzone (1-5, 5.81) vs. Florida LHP Brian Johnson (5-1, 3.88); Sunday — Georgia TBA vs. Florida RHP Hudson Randall (3-1, 3.56).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Florida — Mike Zuzino is hitting .346 with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs. … Nolan Fontana is batting .326 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs. … Preston Tucker has a .322 average with nine home runs and 28 RBIs. Georgia — Nelson Ward is batting .297 with a .384 on-base percentage. … Justin Bryan had two early week starts in the outfield and has a .294 average with two home runs and eight RBIs. … Kyle Farmer has a .293 average with three home runs and a team-high 24 RBIs.
SERIES: Florida leads 163-75-2 since 1950.
LAST MEETING: Florida won three of five games last year and spit a pair of games at the SEC Tournament.
SEASON AT A GLANCE: Georgia comes off of a busy week when it went 4-2 in a six-game, seven-day stretch. The Bulldogs took two of three games against Ole Miss last weekend but come off a 5-4 loss at home to Furman. Florida has won four of its last five and took two of three at Tennessee last weekend.
NOTEWORTHY: Georgia freshman outfielder Hunter Cole sat two games earlier this week with a strained chest muscle but should be ready to go this weekend. … Michael Palazzone was ill on Tuesday when he allowed five runs in one inning of relief against Furman. … Cole has reched base in 19 straight games. … Peter Verdin was 5-for-8 against Ole Miss and his average climbed to .282. … The Bulldogs aere 7-1 on Fridays so far this season. … Florida won 20 of its first 21 games. … The Gators’ weekend rotation of Brian Johnson, Karston Whitson and Hudson Randall, along with closer Austin Maddox, have all missed time because of injuries since SEC play started. Whitson is not scheduled to start this weekend against Georgia . … The Gators are 9-6 in the SEC and lost series to LSU and Ole Miss before beating Tennessee last weekend.