Strong pitching helps Georgia rise to top of SEC standings

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.”

UCLA WINS PAC-12 SHOWDOWN

The top teams in last week’s D1Baseball.com and Baseball America rankings faced off over the weekend with No. 1 UCLA winning two of three at No. 2 Stanford.

UCLA lost the first game 3-2 before winning 11-5 and 10-7 in the final two games of the series. Stanford had entered the series leading all Division I teams in earned run average (2.36)

“I thought we had good plate discipline,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “We used the whole field when we were hitting. Some guys saw the ball really well the last couple of days and put some quality at bats together and gave us an opportunity to score some runs.”

IVY LEAGUE MARATHON

Penn and Dartmouth played the longest game in Ivy League history Saturday, with Penn scoring eight runs in the 21st inning to win 21-15.

The teams set NCAA single-game records for most combined plate appearances (206) and at-bats (176). Penn’s Peter Matt and Craig Larsen set an NCAA individual record for at-bats with 12 apiece. Larsen also hit for the cycle.

SEMINOLES’ STRUGGLES

Florida State (19-12, 7-8 ACC) was outscored 26-2 during a four-game skid before winning 6-5 at Miami on Sunday. The Seminoles were shut out twice by Miami and once by Boston College during that losing streak.

GATORS’ REIGN IN JEOPARDY

Florida has won at least a share of the SEC title each of the last two years but will have trouble earning a third straight crown. The Gators (21-13) are just 4-8 in conference play after getting swept by Mississippi last weekend. Ole Miss outscored Florida 40-18 and tied a school record for runs scored in an SEC three-game series.

UNUSUAL PLAYS

Mississippi State won two of three games at Tennessee over the weekend, but its loss came in a bizarre fashion.

Tennessee trailed 1-0 in the fifth inning Saturday when Landon Gray bunted runners over to second and third. Mississippi State pitcher Peyton Plumlee got the ball at the end of the play and threw it into the Bulldogs’ dugout before a timeout had been granted by an umpire.

The throw into the dugout allowed both Tennessee runners to come home for the Volunteers’ only runs in a 2-1 victory .

That wasn’t the only unusual play of the weekend. Virginia’s doubleheader sweep at Notre Dame on Saturday had a bizarre finish.

Notre Dame trailed 6-5 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth but had Niko Kavadas on first and Jack Zyska on second when Eric Gilgenbach hit an apparent game-tying single to center.

Rather than throwing home, Cameron Simmons threw back to the infield, where Kavadas had rounded second and was trying to get back to the bag. Virginia tagged Kavadas out before Zyska reached home plate, allowing the Cavaliers to escape.

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