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PREMIUM SCOOP: Much more on the Georgia Bulldogs and Oregon State Beavers
Georgia made a splash earlier this season when it went to the West Coast, defeated Gerrit Cole and UCLA, and finished the trip with a perfect 3-0 record. But while that trip was a step in the right direction, it wasn’t the turning point for a campaign that has evolved from disaster to successful.
That turning point came against LSU the second weekend of SEC play.
The Bulldogs dropped a tough road series to South Carolina to begin SEC action, and were sitting at 1-3 in conference after dropping the home series opener to LSU the next weekend. Instead of playing the next day, rain cancelled Saturday’s action, giving coach Dave Perno and his staff time to reflect on the impending doubleheader against the Tigers.
Perno’s message to his team was clear: Let’s turn things around.
“I just told the guys we need to go out there [Sunday against LSU] and prove we can win in this league. We need to take advantage of this opportunity at home,” he said. “We handled that doubleheader really well and felt good about ourselves after that series. That really got us going.”
It’s true the Bulldogs have been a different team since the LSU series. Before Sunday’s doubleheader against the Tigers, the Bulldogs had a 9-13 overall record and making an NCAA postseason appearance appeared to be a pipe dream. Since then, the Bulldogs have won nine of their last 11 games, are 18-15 overall, 8-4 in SEC play and have an RPI of 17 that definitely would get them into the postseason if the season ended today.
The Bulldogs are playing with much more confidence and have SEC series wins against the Tigers, Mississippi State and Mississippi. And while the offense has increased its production the past couple of weeks, there’s no question the pitching staff is the main reason the Bulldogs have turned things around.
Last season, on the way to a dismal 16-37 record, the Bulldogs had major issues on the mound and finished the campaign with a 8.51 ERA and opponents hit their pitchers at a high .333 clip. This season, the Bulldogs have a vastly improved 4.52 ERA and teams are hitting them at a .275 clip.
Starting pitcher Michael Palazzone, in particular, has risen to the occasion. The talented right-hander had a dismal campaign last season, finishing the year with a 8.66 ERA in 61 1/3 innings with opponents hitting him at a .361 clip. However, the righty has a 2.28 ERA in 55 1/3 innings this year and teams are hitting .244 against him.
“He’s [Palazzone] managing the game a lot better this season. He’s not trying to blow guys away with pitches, and he’s just pitching to contact,” Perno said. “He’s not falling behind in the count, he’s handling his counts and he’s executing his pitches. It also helps that we’re playing good defense behind him.”
Perno added that Palazzone is much more comfortable this season, and has consistently been 88-91 with his fastball, touching 92 MPH at times.
The Bulldogs also are pleased with left-hander Blake Dieterich and right-hander Tyler Maloof. Dieterich has appeared in 13 games and has a 1.31 ERA in 20 2/3 innings, while Maloof has been very effective as closer with 12 saves this spring.
“There was a time when Diederich and Maloof were the only guys we were using out of the bullpen,” Perno said. “Blake is a three-pitch guy that is very smart with a great feel for the game. He won’t blow you away, but he certainly knows how to pitch. Maloof’s numbers aren’t that great, but he has been very good in save situations. We’ve come to the realization that he’s best in that role.”
While the pitching staff has taken a huge step forward, the offense is slowly coming together after a slow start. The Bulldogs are hitting just .273 as a team with Levi Hyams and Zach Cone leading the way. Jonathan Hester is only hitting .286 but has recorded some huge hits, while Kyle Farmer, who’s hitting .273, is heating up at the plate.
Perno also has welcomed contributions from others such as Brandon Stephens, Brett DeLoach and Kevin Ruiz in Johnathan Taylor’s absence.
“With J.T. not in the lineup, I think it’s going to take a team effort at the plate the entire season to get the job done,” Perno said. “I’ve been pleased with the fact it seems like Cone and Farmer really are starting to heat up.”
As the Bulldogs move forward, they’ll need everyone to be on the same page down the stretch. They have a home series against Florida this weekend before facing Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn in consecutive weeks.
Though the Bulldogs are 8-4 in SEC play, they still have little room for error at just three games over .500 overall. But if they can take a home series from the Gators this weekend, this team’s expectations will drastically change.
What was a dire situation weeks ago suddenly appears to be one that could have a special finish.
“If we get too far ahead of ourselves, that’s when we get into some trouble. We want to get into a situation in conference where we’re not panicking because of one loss,” he said. “If we get a series over Florida this weekend, then I think we change our expectations a little bit. At that point we can start aiming for an SEC title.”
No. 4 Florida at No. 11 Florida State
The Gators would love nothing more than to head to Tallahassee, Fla., and get a win over the Seminoles. The Gators are coming off an SEC road series win over Mississippi State, but are 1-2 against the Seminoles in midweek bouts this spring. A familiar pitching matchup between Florida’s Alex Panteliodis and Florida State’s Hunter Scantling is expected. UF evening the series at 2-2 is important, but the Seminoles could have a very impressive postseason feather in their cap with a 3-1 record vs. the Gators this season. It’s obviously an important contest for both clubs.
East Carolina at No. 5 North Carolina
The Pirates are in desperate need of a marquee midweek win. They started conference play with a series win over Memphis, but have lost back-to-back weekend series to UAB and Rice. Beating the Tar Heels in a midweek game won’t diminish those series losses, but it would give ECU an RPI boost and a marquee win. The Pirates need a solid start from pitcher Zach Wood, who has a 1-2 record and a 3.51 ERA. Can anyone slow down the sizzling Tar Heels?
No. 6 Texas A&M at Rice
This typically is an important midweek game, but it has even more importance this season since the Owls don’t have Texas on their schedule. The Aggies and Owls both are riding high after earning important conference series wins over the weekend. Rice, though, needs the victory more as it hopes to get back into the NCAA Regional hosting discussion. The Owls need a strong start from talented freshman right-handed pitcher John Simms, who has a 3.45 ERA in 28 2/3 innings. He also has struck out 28 and walked 10, but teams are hitting an incredibly high .336 against him.
No. 14 TCU at No. 15 Oklahoma
The midweek tilts between the Horned Frogs and Sooners have become huge on the national stage the past couple of seasons. That doesn’t change this season with both squads hoping to get back into the NCAA Regional hosting discussion. The Frogs enter the contest with an RPI of 33 with a 22-10 overall record. OU, meanwhile, has an RPI of 25 with a 24-8 overall record. Both teams will send solid pitchers to the mound on Tuesday, Erik Miller for the Frogs and talented freshman prospect Jordan John for the Sooners. This should be an exciting midweek bout.
Georgia at No. 12 Georgia Tech
The Bulldogs appeared to be down and out several weeks ago, but they’ve since turned their season around and are in great shape in the SEC. The Bulldogs, though, didn’t master Georgia Tech in the first midweek meeting, actually getting dominated in the contest. So, the Bulldogs are looking for a little redemption in this midweek bout. Tech, meanwhile, hopes to rebound after losing a tough home series to Virginia over the weekend. As usual, this is an important contest for both squads.
Long Beach State at No. 24 UCLA
Both teams have very little room for error down the stretch if they want to reach the NCAA postseason. The Dirtbags actually were in good shape before dropping a horrible home series to UC Davis last weekend. UCLA, meanwhile, has a solid Pac-10 record, but also has a dismal RPI of 86 with an unimpressive 16-11 record. A win in this one by either team is important moving into another crucial weekend of action.
Mississippi at No. 22 Southern Mississippi
Both teams are coming off dismal weeks and desperately need a marquee midweek win to get things headed the right direction. The Rebels went 1-3 last week with a midweek loss to Memphis and weekend series loss to Georgia, while the Golden Eagles dropped a midweek bout to Mississippi State before hitting the road and losing two of three to Memphis. The Golden Eagles need a strong week to stay in national seed contention, while the Rebels hope to just stay in the NCAA postseason picture.
No. 7 Cal State Fullerton at Loyola Marymount
The Titans are playing an outstanding brand of baseball and make the short drive up to LMU for an important midweek bout. The Titans are coming off a huge home series win over UC Irvine, while the Lions have quietly put together a solid RPI of 56 with an overall record of 19-11. The Lions could use another marquee win on their NCAA postseason resume.
Coastal Carolina at No. 2 Virginia
The Chanticleers are in serious danger of not reaching the NCAA postseason unless they either win the Big South tournament or finish the regular season on an incredibly high note. The Chants have swept Big South series from Liberty and Presbyterian the past two weeks and enter the contest playing a solid brand of baseball. Virginia, meanwhile, hopes to continue its successful ways after taking two of three from Georgia Tech over the weekend. Don’t be too surprised if Cavaliers midweek starter Will Roberts ends up in the weekend rotation at some point.
Mississippi State at UAB
Even after dropping a tough series to Florida over the weekend, the Bulldogs still are in good shape to reach the NCAA postseason. UAB, though, interestingly is in the mix for an at-large berth, too. The Blazers have won Conference USA series over East Carolina and Houston the last two weeks, have an 18-13 record and a solid RPI of 73. The Blazers could use a solid midweek win over State from an RPI standpoint.
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball managing editor for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at email@example.com