Luke Wagner

Georgia pitcher Luke Wagner during a game against Kennesaw State at Foley Field in Athens, Georgia, on March 23, 2021. (Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

A sizable and vocal crowd greeted Georgia baseball at Texas A&M’s Blue Bell Park on Friday as the Bulldogs began their first SEC road series in College Station, Texas. Pitching struggles returned for Georgia, and the Bulldogs fell 6-3 to move to 15-6 overall and 1-3 in the SEC in 2021. Here are some observations from The Red & Black: 

Freshman Friday (again)

Luke Wagner has settled into an unusual role for a freshman pitcher as Georgia’s Friday starter. Aside from a clean six-inning outing on March 12, he’s struggled. Wagner lasted less than two innings last weekend against Tennessee, giving up a leadoff home run and leaving the game before the Volunteers’ 11-run parade reached full swing. 

On Friday, Wagner finished three innings but was on the hook for four earned runs. Trouble, as it usually does for Georgia pitchers in 2021, started with a walk. Two singles followed in the second inning to set up a bases-loaded sacrifice fly that put the Aggies up 1-0.

The walk was the first of nine free bases handed out by Georgia on Friday, a backslide after Georgia pitchers found their accuracy following 12 walks and a hit Tennessee batter on March 19.

Wagner got out of the jam in inning two, but a two-run home run in the third was enough for assistant coach Scott Daeley. Daeley is still filling in for head coach Scott Stricklin, who was decommissioned by COVID-19 on March 19.

Like last Friday, Daeley replaced the struggling Wagner with another young pitcher, freshman Will Pearson. The 6-foot-2, right-handed Pearson managed to slow down Texas A&M’s bats for just over two innings. He gave up two hits, one walk and struck out one. 

But with five more walks leading to several sticky situations late in the game, Georgia’s subsequent relievers again dropped the ball. Two runs in the seventh sealed the game.

Saenz throws five solid

Senior Texas A&M starter Dustin Saenz had little trouble keeping Georgia in check for five innings. Although the lefty had to face seven right-handed batters, his 90 MPH fastball consistently hit the mark, and Saenz used it to set up a biting slider that gave Georgia’s lineup fits.

He struck out eight Bulldogs off 70 pitches through four innings. But the cracks had surfaced. Similar to A&M’s one-run second inning, a leadoff walk and two Georgia singles cut the Aggies’ lead to 4-2.

Georgia hitters had begun to settle, laying off pitches and going deeper into counts. Until then, the Bulldogs’ sixth, seventh and eighth hitters had accumulated all of Georgia’s hits and both of Georgia’s runs. That changed in the fifth.

Connor Tate launched a high-and-tight fastball far beyond the left field wall to cut Georgia’s deficit to one run. The shot didn’t seem to hit the ground, either getting lost in a second-story balcony of the building behind left field or passing over it. Teammates rewarded Tate at the plate with a gold, spiked celebratory helmet. 

Riley King followed with a double to the left field wall but didn’t advance. Saenz struck out Cole Tate before fellow lefty Chandler Jozwiak entered and retired the side.

Lively bats late in the game weren’t enough for Georgia. After A&M’s one-run lead expanded to three in the seventh, the Bulldogs couldn’t get back in it.

Saenz’s performance was on-par with his nearly six-inning average start length this season. In 5 2/3 innings, he allowed three earned runs, one walk and struck out 11. Sixteen Bulldogs struck out Friday, their highest single-game total this season.

Brothers battle

Georgia’s pair of twins, Connor and Cole Tate, are typically the lone siblings on the diamond. They weren’t Friday night as Texas A&M brought brothers Hunter and Ty Coleman to Blue Bell Park.

Entering Friday, the Tate brothers had combined for 46 hits off 139 at-bats, achieving a slightly higher average than the less-active Coleman brothers’ 18 off 55. 

Despite a single from Cole Tate and Connor Tate’s towering home run in inning five, the Colemans’ three combined hits Friday proved more impactful.

Fourth-hitter Hunter Coleman got on with a single in the third, driving in Texas A&M’s second run. Batting next was Hunter’s older brother Ty, who followed with a homer off the left field foul pole to tack on two more.

Hunter Coleman came through again in the seventh, knocking a two-RBI single to center field. With two walks and two hits, the younger Coleman reached base in all four of his Friday plate appearances.