ATHENS — Justin Grimm wasn’t expecting to carry the weight of Georgia’s postseason hopes when he opened the year as the team’s No. 3 starter. At that point, he was just trying to throw strikes and improve with each outing.
But as the season progressed, the games got bigger, the expectations got higher, and Grimm just kept pitching well. Consistency became his best weapon, and now it’s the reason head coach David Perno has picked the sophomore to start the Bulldogs’ opener in the regional tournament against Ohio State.
“He’s been pretty good for us all year,” Perno said. “He’s had a couple disappointing outings, but for the most part he’s been pretty steady, throws strikes, has an electric arm, and he’s been getting better every time out.”
That stands in stark contrast with the way Georgia’s staff has worked in recent weeks. Ace Trevor Holder struggled through two of his final three starts — all Georgia losses — and No. 2 starter Alex McRee was banished to the bullpen for the remainder of the postseason after a series of dreadful outings, ending with a 16-0 defeat against LSU in the SEC tournament.
But through it all, Grimm has been a rare mark of consistency — not always great, but good enough to give his team a chance to win every time out. For the season, the right-hander is just 3-4 with a 4.19 ERA, but he led the Bulldogs to a win over Vanderbilt in the penultimate weekend of the season and was brilliant in the SEC tournament opener against Mississippi last week.
“You can’t say enough about how much he’s matured,” said Holder, who will start Game 2 of the regional Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla. “I struggled a couple weeks ago, and Grimm had a couple good outings for us, and it’s good to have a guy that when things aren’t going well, you have someone go out and pick us up.”
Holder has posted back-to-back strong outings, too, and he thinks Georgia’s pitching could be the difference in helping the Bulldogs advance to the super regionals next week.
While the staff struggled down the stretch, Georgia’s pitchers had three strong outings in the SEC tournament, with McRee’s poor start the only blemish. It’s a trend Holder thinks will continue.
“Me and Grimm have put a couple of good starts together,” Holder said. “We’re both throwing the ball with a lot of conviction, and it’s good to get a couple of good outings. As a staff as a whole, take away that LSU game, and we threw the ball extremely well. It’s good to get some confidence back for sure.”
Grimm takes the mound today at noon against Ohio State, the region’s No. 3 seed, which finished the season with a 40-17 record.
The Buckeyes won’t be pushovers, but Grimm said the grueling SEC schedule Georgia faced this year has the Bulldogs prepared to handle the opener.
“I really don’t feel like they play as tough competition as we do throughout the year, so I really feel like we have an advantage from that standpoint,” Grimm said.
The winner of today’s game will play the winner of Florida State and Marist on Saturday, while the two losers will also play Saturday. Two more games are set for Sunday, and if a final game is necessary, Grimm will take the mound again Monday.
“It just matches,” Perno said of his projected starters. “Game 2 is probably the most important game of a regional because if you lose Game 1, you’ve got to win Game 2 to stay alive. And if you win Game 1, you need Game 2 or you’re right back to where you started. Then if it gets pushed to Monday, (Grimm) will be able to bounce back on two days, and Trevor’s probably not as resilient as him.”
Georgia advanced to the finals of the College World Series last year, losing in three games to Fresno State. The experience was a big reason Holder decided to return to Athens for his senior season.
He may not have expected to have Grimm as his wingman on the return trip to Omaha, Neb., but Holder is sure Georgia has found the right man for the job.
“Good pitching is always good to have in a playoff atmosphere,” Holder said. “I think me and Grimm are going to take it upon ourselves to lead us through these first couple of games and set the tone for the whole tournament.”
Florida State Seminoles
Regional seed: 1.
First-round matchup: Marist.
Analysis: The Seminoles did a remarkable job of replacing departed talent this season and earned their third straight ACC title and their 32nd consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. Mike McGee and Jason Stidham each finished the season with more than 60 RBI and starter Sean Gilmartin won 11 games.
Regional seed: 2.
First-round matchup: Ohio State.
Analysis: After a strong start to the season that had the Bulldogs ranked atop the polls, things fell apart down the stretch, and Georgia lost 11 of its final 13 regular-season games. Georgia bounced back with two wins in the SEC tournament, however, and is led by starter Trevor Holder and All-SEC first baseman Rich Poythress.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Regional seed: 3.
First-round matchup: Georgia.
Analysis: Ohio State earned an at-large bid out of the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are no strangers to the state of Florida, having played their first 21 games of the season there, winning 18. Ohio State had a staff ERA of 5.67 this season, but starter Alex Wimmers earned Big Ten pitcher of the year honors after posting a 9-1 record with a 2.68 ERA.
Marist Red Foxes
Regional seed: 4.
First-round matchup: Florida State.
Analysis: Marist was hardly dominant during the regular season, but topped Canisius in two of three games in the MAAC tournament to take the conference title. The Red Foxes are led by senior right-handed pitcher Jacob Wiley, who was 9-1 with a 2.65 ERA this season.