Play ball: Diamond Dogs open season at Foley Field

It is baseball season in Athens: the Georgia Bulldog baseball team opens the first series of the year this afternoon at Foley Field. There is a 5 o’clock first pitch against Richmond. The Diamond Dogs will host the Spiders again Saturday and Sunday.

From UGA Sports Communications…

Fourth-ranked Georgia opens the 2020 season by playing host to Richmond in a three-game series starting Friday at 5 p.m.
Georgia finished 46-17 a year ago including 28-3 at Foley Field during the regular season. Bulldog pitching looks to be strength again with a pair of projected Major League Baseball first round draft picks in the rotation in junior RHP Emerson Hancock (8-3, 1.99 ERA) and sophomore RHP Cole Wilcox (3-2, 4.07 ERA) plus junior LHP C.J. Smith (3-3, 4.30 ERA). Hancock is a consensus preseason All-American while Wilcox made the 3rd Team of Baseball America. Smith provided two of the most impressive starts in 2019 when he helped the Bulldogs even series with No. 5 Vanderbilt and No. 10 LSU that the Bulldogs eventually won. Junior LHP Ryan Webb (1-0, 3.75 ERA, 1 SV) is the projected closer in 2020. Hancock will be starting the season opener for the second year in a row. He carried a no-hitter to the seventh in the 2019 season-opening win over Dayton. Wilcox and Smith are slated to start Saturday and Sunday.

In 2019, Georgia ranked second nationally in Fewest Hits Allowed Per Nine Innings at 6.40 while UCLA led the country at 6.18. Georgia registered a 3.24 Earned Run Average (ERA), which ranked fourth nationally and was the second best in school history, trailing only the 1958 squad (2.97). 

Stellar defense has been a trademark for the Bulldogs. For the past two seasons, Georgia's defense has established a school record for Highest Fielding Percentage, posting a .980 mark in 2019 after tallying a .979 mark in 2018. This is partially due to a veteran trio of elite defenders in shortstop Cam Shepherd, first baseman Patrick Sullivan and catcher Mason Meadows. They have a chance to finish their Bulldog careers with the best fielding percentage at their position in school history. Shepherd already owns the UGA single season fielding record for a shortstop at .987, set in 2019 when he received a Rawlings Gold Glove from the ABCA as the top defensive shortstop in the country. Meadows set the Bulldog season fielding record for a catcher at .998 in 2018.

The Georgia offense must replace its top three hitters from a year ago (Aaron SchunkLJ Talley and John Cable). The Bulldogs averaged 6.4 runs a game last year while batting .272 with 75 home runs. Redshirt junior Riley King (.295-8-43) returns as a seasoned run-producer in the middle of the order. King and Shepherd hit eight home runs apiece last year. With a veteran group in 2020, Georgia should be able to grind out at bats that result in run production. The new faces to look for in the lineup are outfielder Ben Anderson (OF), Garrett Blaylock (3B) plus a healthy Tucker Bradley (OF) who missed most of 2019 with a shoulder injury. Anderson sat out last year as a transfer after earning Freshman All-America honors at Furman in 2018. Blaylock began his career at Vanderbilt and played last year for St. Johns River State College in Florida. Newcomers to watch include freshman infielder Buddy Floyd, outfielder Kaden Fowler (redshirt junior), catcher Kale Ledford (junior transfer) and pitchers Garrett Brown (redshirt freshman), Jonathan CannonMichael Polk and Will Childers.

In the series history with the Spiders, Georgia leads 2-0, winning both games here in 1987 (15-4 & 15-2). The Spiders leadoff hitter back then was two-sport star Brian Jordan who would eventually play for the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves. Against the Bulldogs, he went 0-for-4 with a walk and four putouts. 

In the SEC Coaches poll, Georgia is picked to finish third in the East while the Spiders are slated to be fourth in the Atlantic 10 by the A-10 coaches. Georgia is led by Ike Cousins head baseball coach Scott Stricklin who begins his seventh year. The Spiders, coached by Tracy Woodson, return 23 lettermen from last year as they went 28-25-1. Redshirt junior RHP Tim Miller (5-2, 3.21 ERA) will start his third straight opener for the Spiders while right-handers Collin Lowe (2-2, 3.73 ERA in 2018, hurt in 2019) and Jacob Marcus (2-4, 4.58 ERA) are slated for games two and three.

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