Bulldogs Beat

Three things to know after Georgia blasts through Florida Atlantic to stay alive in NCAA regional

Here are our favorite photos from Georgia Bulldogs vs. Florida State Seminoles @ NCAA Athens Regional

Here are some of Telegraph visual journalist Jason Vorhees's favorite shots from the Georgia-Florida State game in the NCAA Athens Regional. The Bulldogs lost 12-3 on June 1, 2019.
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Here are some of Telegraph visual journalist Jason Vorhees's favorite shots from the Georgia-Florida State game in the NCAA Athens Regional. The Bulldogs lost 12-3 on June 1, 2019.

In between innings, Georgia starting pitcher Tim Elliott squared off his own space inside the team dugout. A stool became his throne and the royalty-like luxury came with a warehouse fan propelling cold air atop his grey jersey. Most of his other teammates leaned up against the railing and took in the sweltering heat.

Once Elliott jogged to the mound, that scene symbolized his outing in Georgia’s 13-0 win over Florida Atlantic to stay alive in the NCAA Athens Regional. Elliott’s arm was the heat. His pitch speed on the radar gun mirrored the 89-degree outside temperature. The breeze dispersing from the fan was Elliott’s mix of pitches as they dwindled from the opposing batter’s sight.

In that same dugout after the sixth inning, there was a unique feeling.

“Hey, we’re going CG,” Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin recalled hearing, in reference to a complete game.

Elliott’s masterful pitching performance kept a hot-hitting Florida Atlantic team off-balance as it didn’t record its first hit until the fifth inning. Owls’ first baseman Andru Summerall broke the streak with a single, but Georgia had fortunes in its favor. A nifty 4-6-3 double play was turned to end the inning.

Before Georgia returns to the field Sunday evening, here are three things to know about its second win of postseason play.

Nothing but dominance

Elliott is a midweek starter for Georgia, so finding the spotlight isn’t too common. After watching him take the mound for three seasons, however, Bulldogs’ head coach Scott Stricklin saw a special quality in Elliott. Much improved in 2019, he posted a 2.70 ERA in 66.2 innings.

“We could’ve flipped a coin (between Elliott and Cole Wilcox),” Stricklin said. “We talked amongst our staff and were in really good shape having those two guys. I think at the end of the day, we needed length in this game. You can’t ask for anything else (than his performance).”

Early on, the benefits became obvious. But none of Elliott’s starts have reached this level of dominance. Florida Atlantic had no answer. Most of them either struck out or grounded out after swinging early in at-bats. Progressively, it likened to Elliott playing a quick game of catch as his pitch count was minimal.

He set a number of season-high marks with a complete game shutout (Georgia’s first since Chase Adkins in 2017, and first in a regional since 2008), only allowing two hits and eight strikeouts.

“This was my No. 1 start (of my career), for sure,” Elliott said. “Especially given the circumstances, this was great.”

It marked Elliott’s second-consecutive scoreless outing, but ends a previous stretch of trouble with 13 runs allowed in four previous starts. He didn’t walk a batter for the first time since April 2 vs. Clemson, and shutout Florida Atlantic for only the second time this season.

Elliott hasn’t been among Georgia’s group of aces, but he arguably looked among the best under pressure-packed circumstances.

“Once I step on that mound, the nerves go away and everything settles in,” Elliott said. “Getting that first strike was huge, and then it was smooth rolling. It felt good today.”

Georgia pitcher Tim Elliot (44) delivers a pitch to the plate during the Bulldogs’ NCAA regional game against Florida Atlantic Sunday in Athens. Jason Vorhees jvorhees@macon.com

Goodbye Shepherd slump

Georgia shortstop Cam Shepherd found himself in a slump, but carries an ever-confident demeanor. He entered Sunday’s game on a 1-for-14 run which began immediately after the walk-off home run against Texas A&M in the SEC tournament.

He stepped back to the plate with the team’s second-lowest batting average among starters, but found his stride. A hard-hit double started as it whizzed past third-base coach Scott Daeley for a double. Then a single set up a solo home run that drifted over the left field wall.

Back to the fan, those gusts correlated to Georgia’s offensive performance. Stricklin knew runs would be mandatory if Georgia’s season was meant to live on, and the Bulldogs’ offense was wind-powered by 12 RBI coming off of the deep ball — Connor Tate, Aaron Schunk (two home runs, one a grand slam) and John Cable hit the others.

Schunk’s grand slam gave Georgia eight on the season, a program record. Prior to his pitch being launched, an announcement made to the broadcast crew said “Schunk has zero career grand slams.” That’s no longer.

But Shepherd’s 3-for-3 afternoon led the way, and his hitting abilities matched his defensive prowess.

Georgia shortstop Cam Shepherd (7) gets greeted by teammates outside the dugout after his solo home run in the top of the sixth inning of the Bulldogs’ NCAA regional game against Florida Atlantic Sunday in Athens. Jason Vorhees jvorhees@macon.com

More dramatics for Connor Tate

Prior to an elimination game, Stricklin must’ve had a gut feeling when sipping his Sunday morning coffee. Freshman Randon Jernigan recorded three spectacular catches in the game prior, so one might think he’s the choice to earn another start.

But at this point, Tate’s clutch abilities are undeniable.

He earns the occasional start, but loves the dramatics. A bases-clearing double to beat Auburn. The grandest of all home runs against Kentucky. And bringing the merciful end to that 20-inning marathon against Clemson with a walk-off hit. Once he stepped up in the fourth inning with two teammates on base and 2-0 lead, anticipatory feelings accumulated inside Foley Field.

“Now you’re ready, Connor,” one fan yelled from atop Section 104 while tuning into the Bulldogs’ radio call on a headset. “Do it again, baby.”

Next pitch, a large midday crowd heard a piercing ping off of Tate’s aluminum bat. Georgia’s dugout looked upward and murmured while Tate’s ball soared through the air. Schunk, who is starving for postseason success, was the first to hurriedly leap over the railing. As Tate rounded third, Schunk’s emotions likened to a five-year-old little leaguer as he hopped in place as the Bulldogs mobbed him.

“I felt like today we needed offense,” Stricklin said. “I was leaning towards Connor, and we thought he might get one up in the air and give us some points on the board. That was big for him to do that for us.”

Tate answered Stricklin’s call for runs in the most-exciting fashion — his eighth on the season.

Georgia’s Conner Tate (23) watches his 3-run home run in the top of the fourth inning of the Bulldogs’ NCAA regional game against Florida Atlantic Sunday in Athens. Jason Vorhees jvorhees@macon.com

Up next

A few hours remain until an elimination-saving run lives on at Foley Field. Georgia must avenge Saturday night’s defeat at the hands of Florida State, a 12-3 beatdown, to stay alive. That serves as the first-of-two games Georgia hopes to play against the Seminoles, and must win both to advance.

Georgia sends freshman Cole Wilcox to the mound for a 6 p.m. first pitch. Wilcox, known for a blazing fastball that hits 100 mph on radar guns, comes off of a strong start in the SEC tournament. Against Arkansas, a nationally-seeded team, he threw six innings without allowing an earned run.

One down for Georgia, two to go for its season to live another weekend.