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Sunday May 19th, 2019 7:19PM

Strong pitching helps Georgia rise to top of SEC standings

By The Associated Press
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ATHENS — Georgia's baseball program seems intent on making an even bigger leap this season after taking a giant step forward last year when it earned its first NCAA Tournament invitation since 2011.

The Bulldogs' exceptional pitching staff stifled Vanderbilt's potent lineup over the weekend to win two of three from the Commodores (24-8, 7-5 Southeastern Conference). Georgia (27-6, 9-3) has the SEC's best conference record as the Bulldogs chase their first league title since 2008.

Georgia is ranked second nationally in the D1Baseball.com poll that came out Monday.

"We felt like this was a year for us to challenge for an SEC championship," Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said Monday.

Georgia allowed a total of seven runs in the three-game series against Vanderbilt, which entered the weekend batting .323 as a team and averaging 8.4 runs per game. Tony Locey and Zac Kristofak combined on a one-hitter Sunday in a 3-1 victory.

The Bulldogs own a 2.85 team ERA with a weekend rotation featuring Emerson Hancock (6-1, 1.02 ERA), Locey (5-0, 2.18) and C.J. Smith (3-1, 2.51). Reliever/third baseman Aaron Schunk has 10 saves and is hitting .315.

"We felt our pitching and defense were going to be very good and good enough to (keep us) in every game we played," Stricklin said. "That's kind of been the case."

The Bulldogs posted losing records in their first four seasons under Stricklin, but they stuck with him. That patience is paying off now.

"The one thing I knew is I had an athletic director (Greg McGarity) who told me he was going to have patience, that he trusted in my staff and what we were doing," said Stricklin, who coached Kent State to a College World Series appearance in 2012. "He trusted me. After Year Four, he could have made a decision to move on, but he trusted what we were doing and he stuck with us. I'm certainly grateful for that."

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