Skip to main content

Georgia lives to see another day using offensive explosion, outstanding pitching performance

Palmber-Thombsby:Palmer Thombs06/09/24


ATHENS, Ga. — It’s been a tale of two games in the Athens Super Regional. Saturday couldn’t have gone much worse for Georgia Baseball, falling 18-1 to NC State to open action in the Classic City. Fans – many of whom tuned in for the first time all year – jumped to conclusions about the Bulldogs from one game with the Wolfpack, but if they tuned in again on Sunday, they might be ready to change their opinion. A switch flipped, and Georgia won 11-2. It was the same two teams but two polar opposite results setting up what should be an exciting finale in Athens.

“For us, to bounce back was huge. Just coming out, staying focused and playing the game,” Georgia head coach Wes Johnson said to open his postgame press conference. “Obviously, scoring those two (Slate Alford and Tre Phelps) right at first got us off to a good start. Leighton (Finley) threw the ball extremely, extremely well. We really put our bullpen at ease a little bit. You never know what you’re going to have to do when you come to a game like this. Obviously, Tre’s home run was huge.”

“It’s what they did,” he continued. “It’s nothing special we did as coaches, we just got them ready to play and these guys went and did it.”

Slate Alford gave Georgia a lead in the first inning with a two-run blast to left field. Tre Phelps added three-more in the third with his own home run, a two-out shot that cleared the batter’s eye in center field. Together, they made it 5-0 UGA and had Georgia already over its hit total of four from Saturday’s defeat.

“I feel like it sparked us for sure,” Alford said about his home run. “You know, I was just looking for a good pitch to hit, something to drive and I was blessed to put the barrel on the ball and have good things happen. We have plenty of guys that do the same thing in those situations. Just blessed that it was me in that time.”

Alford is playing some of his best baseball at the right time. He was included on the Athens Regional All-Tournament team after making several impressive plays in the field and totaling six hits in 14 at bats, four RBI and two runs scored. Alford had one of Georgia’s four hits on Saturday and started 2-for-2 on Sunday including the early home run.

As for Phelps, the true freshman provided Georgia with a key home run in Sunday’s regional-clinching win over Georgia Tech. He came through clutch again a week later. Phelps walks with swagger – singing his walk-up song to himself as he and his unbuttoned shirt leave the on-deck circle – and knows he belongs on this big of a stage. For him, there was no doubt in his mind he was capable of contributing this early in his career.

“Yeah, definitely,” Phelps said when asked if he expected to be the type of guy that talks to reporters after the biggest game of the season. “But there’s nothing towards my season, it’s all about the team’s season. Whether I was hurt or not, I wanted everybody to succeed no matter whether I was in the box or the next person was. Having that with me, being able to go up today and hit that three-run bomb, that’s what drove that.”

“I think it all starts with the older guys,” he added on the confidence he’s got. “This is a really old team of fourth and fifth years. They give the younger guys confidence to be able to believe in the next guy and that he can do just as good as you can. I believe that’s why we’ve had a lot of team success this year.”

Alford and Phelps were big, but nobody was bigger for the Bulldogs on Sunday than Leighton Finley. The 6-foot-5 sophomore righty gave Georgia a career-high 6.2 innings on 104 pitches, striking out five and keeping the powerful Wolfpack offense in check, scoring just one run a day after putting up 18.

“Coming in, I knew NC State had a lot of lefties and knew my changeup needed to be really good for me to have success. We saw yesterday, those guys can hit so pitching to them is not an easy task. I knew I had to hit my spots best I could,” Finley said.

“I try to always think of it as just another game and never forget to have fun,” he continued, talking about pitching with the pressure of the season on his shoulder. “I tried to make it just like a regular season game two, that we need this to win the series. I just tried not to overthink … I mean, these games are really big games, so we’ve got to do our best. I tried to bring what I had.”

Not only was Finley’s performance big for Sunday, it helps Georgia out on Monday too. Johnson said that all pitchers but Finley would be available to throw in the winner-take-all game three because of Finley’s outing on the bump.

“It allows your starter to go deeper into games when you get those double plays obviously,” Johnson said, speaking about Georgia making a couple of key plays defensively. “We needed that to keep our bullpen in check to potentially make a run at this thing tomorrow … It puts us in position to use every guy we’ve got tomorrow except him. That will be our mindset. People are going to ask who … it will be whatever it takes. Anybody but Leighton.”

A game time and TV network for Monday’s game three of the series has yet to be announced. At the stadium, fans were told 12:00 p.m. ET and 7:00 p.m. ET are the two options with things depending on results of other games from around the country.

Georgia and NC State went to a third game back in the 2008 Athens Super Regional, the last time these two programs met, with the Bulldogs advancing to the College World Series. A nine-run first inning helped propel UGA to a 17-8 win – something it’ll be searching for once again, trying to make it to Omaha for the first time since that season.

You may also like