The Georgia baseball team began its 2020 season on Friday night in a 7-6 victory against Richmond at Foley Field. It was the third-straight opening day victory for the Bulldogs, as they needed to come back from a four-run deficit after the fourth inning. Here are some observations from The Red & Black:
Unexpected heroics from Cole Tate
Cole Tate entered Friday night with five career starts and a career batting average of .190. He had also never hit a home run in a Georgia uniform. Head coach Scott Stricklin said Tate received the start as sophomore Randon Jernigan recovers from a broken index finger. None of that mattered in the season opener against Richmond.
Tate’s first at-bat resulted in him circling the bases after a solo home run to left field. His last at-bat ended with a single to center that brought in Jernigan, who entered the game as a pinch runner for Patrick Sullivan in the bottom of the ninth, for the game-winning RBI.
Clutch performances seem to run in the Tate family. His twin brother, Connor Tate, hit his first career walk-off last season in a 3-2, 20-inning victory against Clemson. Cole Tate ended with three singles and one home run in five at-bats.
“We knew that defensively [Cole Tate] was going to be really good,” Stricklin said. “I couldn’t help but smile when his first hit of the year was a home run out of the nine [spot], then he [ended with] four hits. He’ll remember that for the rest of his life.”
Ryan Webb’s career night
Left-handed pitcher Ryan Webb stepped onto the mound for Georgia to start the fifth inning in relief after junior Emerson Hancock allowed six earned runs through the first four innings. The Bulldogs needed a near-perfect performance out of the junior — and they got one.
Webb threw a career-high 11 strikeouts in five innings of action, as he kept the Bulldogs within striking distance while they slowly chipped away at Richmond’s four-run lead. Webb’s longest performance in the 2019 season was a three-inning outing against Georgia Southern on May 3 in which he tied his previous career high of seven strikeouts.
“I used to kind of throw [only] fastball, curveball, changeup,” Webb said. “Coach [Sean] Kenny and I have been working on a slider-cutter this fall and spring, and that was just one of those pitches that was working tonight.”
New and usual faces in the lineup
Shortstop Cam Shepherd was one of two Georgia players to return to the Bulldogs after being drafted in the 2019 MLB Draft. Although he entered Friday night with a career batting average of .241, Shepherd has vital experience at the plate as Georgia works to replace its only three batters that finished with a batting average above .300 last season — Aaron Schunk, LJ Talley and John Cable.
Shepherd finished going 2-for-4 after a leadoff double in the third and a single in the sixth inning. But in arguably his most important at-bat — a fourth-inning appearance with two outs and the bases loaded — he struck out swinging to keep the momentum in Richmond’s favor.
Junior third baseman Garrett Blaylock was tasked with replacing Schunk, who led the Bulldogs last season with a .339 batting average, 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. Blaylock was placed in the fifth spot in the lineup and hit the game-tying home run in the ninth to wrap up his two-RBI debut.