ATHENS — The fourth-ranked Georgia baseball team combined on a one-hitter to beat No. 5 Vanderbilt, 3-1, Sunday to clinch the Southeastern Conference series at Foley Field.
“We talk about being resilient all the time," Georgia baseball coach Scott Stricklin said. "If you’re going to be a good, tough team you have to overcome some things. We’ve lost a couple of Friday night games when Emerson Hancock has just been lights out. It’s heartbreaking but you have to bounce back and we’ve done it both times against top ten teams, LSU and now Vanderbilt. We’ve been doing it in front of sold-out crowds and that is just such a big deal to play well in front of the fans. I’m excited for our team and for our fans. We still have a long way to go, we’ve got six more SEC series."
Facing one of the nation’s top offenses that boasted a .323 team batting average and averaged 8.4 runs a game, Georgia (27-6, 9-3 SEC) limited Vanderbilt to just one hit, a one-out double by Ty Duvall in the fifth inning. It marked Georgia’s second combined one-hitter of the year, and junior Tony Locey has been a part of both of them, pitching the first seven innings.
“He’s a tough kid. He was struggling to get comfortable," Stricklin said about Locey. "I mean the first inning could have been ugly; he had two guys on and found a way to get out of it. He was battling his pitch count all game. The sixth inning was key; he got in and out which allowed him to come back out for the seventh.”
Locey (5-0) tied a career-high with seven innings pitched for the third time this year, while striking out five batters.
“I threw on Saturday last week and Sunday today so I had an extra day of rest," Locey said. "I was really feeling loose, letting it fly, and when I got back into the dugout Coach (Mitch) Gaspard was telling me that I had to start pitching. That is the mindset right there. Instead of just throwing hard, I needed to start pitching a little bit. All of our starters stepped up. I think we all went seven innings. We all deserve a win this weekend, and unfortunately, we didn’t get it Friday night, but we came back Saturday and won today.”
Junior right-handed pitcher Zac Kristofak pitched the final two frames to earn his second save of the year. Vanderbilt freshman Kumar Rocker (2-4) got the loss, giving up three runs on five hits in five innings, as the Commodores dropped to (24-8, 7-5 SEC).
“Our pitching staff did a great job and we played great defense," Stricklin said. It was just a complete game for us today. I thought all weekend we pitched well and we’re tough to score on when we don’t give them much room to breathe. Tony Locey walked three guys today and had a little traffic early on but we retired the last 21 out of 22. Zac Kristofak did a great job, and our guys just made really great defensive plays too.”
In the second inning, Georgia jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Graduate designated hitter John Cable led off the inning with a double. Then sophomore first baseman Chaney Rogers also doubled, scoring Cable, followed by a single from freshman left fielder Randon Jernigan that scored Rogers for a 2-0 lead. Vanderbilt responded in the third inning, as sophomore Austin Martin grounded out to second base, scoring senior Julian Infante from third for a 2-1.
“They are definitely the best hitting team we’ve faced," Rogers said. "Up and down their lineup, they have kids who can swing. Their nine-hole hitter probably hit one over 400 feet yesterday, which just shows how good they are. But our pitchers are unbelievable and we just have to play good defense behind them and we won’t give up any runs.”
The Bulldogs added a run in the sixth inning. To begin the inning, sophomore right fielder Riley King drew a walk, and junior third baseman Aaron Schunk reached on an error. The next batter, senior second baseman LJ Talley, hit a perfectly placed ground ball single in between the first and second baseman to score King and extend the Bulldogs lead to 3-1.
The Bulldogs won their first series against Vanderbilt in 11 years when it clinched the 2008 SEC title in Nashville and first one in Athens since 2005. Also for the second time this year, Georgia dropped the opener in a top 10 SEC matchup (LSU) and came back to win the series.
-- For the second time this season, Georgia pitchers combined on a one-hitter, and Tony Locey has been a part of both of them, going the first seven innings (also did it against Presbyterian).
-- At 27-6 overall, 9-3 in the SEC, Georgia is off to its best start since 2009 and claimed its first SEC series over the Commodores since 2008 when it clinched the SEC title in Nashville.
-- In the first inning, Junior Tony Locey struck out his 50thbatter of the year. He also tied a career high of seven innings pitched.
-- With a single in the first inning, junior Aaron Schunk now has 40 hits this season.
-- Freshman Chaney Rogers extended his hitting streak to four games with an RBI double in the first inning. Senior LJ Talley also extended his hitting streak to four games with an RBI single in the sixth inning.
-- Junior Zac Kristofak recorded his second save on the year.
Georgia plays host to Georgia Tech Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:02 p.m. and be televised on the SEC Network and available on the Georgia Bulldog Sports Network