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Need to Know: Georgia Baseball Entering Super Regional

Palmber-Thombsby:Palmer Thombs06/06/24

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Georgia Baseball: Wes Johnson, UGA stars recap exciting regional clinching win

ATHENS, Ga. — Whether this is the first Georgia Baseball game you’ve seen all season or you’ve been a regular since opening day, welcome aboard for Super Regional weekend. The Bulldogs beat in-state rival Georgia Tech on Sunday – a thrilling 8-6 extra innings victory – to advance out of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and host No. 10 NC State in Athens for a best-of-three series with a spot in Omaha on the line.

It might feel like 2008 – the last time Georgia advanced to the College World Series – because both of those above facts were true that special season too. We promise you, it’s 2024, and instead of Gordon Beckham leading the Bulldogs, it’s the Charlie Condon show at Foley Field.

Those names might be familiar to you. They might not be. Either way, here’s what you should know about Wes Johnson’s Georgia Bulldogs in their first season under his direction as they head into this weekend’s Saturday-Sunday-Monday series with the Wolfpack.

Georgia Baseball Charlie Condon
Kari Hodges / UGA Sports Communications

LINEUP PREVIEW

There’s no other place to start previewing Georgia’s lineup than Charlie Condon. The Bulldog superstar who has started games this season all throughout the outfield and on both corners of the infield was named one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award on Wednesday. He leads the nation in batting average (.445), slugging percentage (1.036) and home runs (36) with his round-tripper total most in the NCAA for a single-season this century.

Needless to say, he’s special, and pitching to him comes with a risk. He’s been walked 55 times including 27 intentionally, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see NC State take that strategy this weekend. What makes it tougher to do so though are the players around him like leadoff hitter Corey Collins (1B/OF), Slate Alford (2B), Fernando Gonzalez (C) and one of the country’s most dangerous nine-hole hitters Kolby Branch (SS). All four of them have more than 50 RBI this season with three having more than 115 total bases too. Collins, who leads the country in on-base percentage, has hit 19 home runs himself while Branch (17), Alford (16), Dylan Goldstein (12) and Tre Phelps (10) are all in double figures as well.

A few of those deserve some extra attention. Collins has been spectacular since moving to the top of the order, having himself the best season of his career. He’s comfortable taking his walks – or being hit by a pitch where he holds the single-season record at Georgia – and understands that those behind him are dangerous too. Against Georgia Tech though, it was Collins that did the damage with a two-out, bases clearing double to extend UGA’s lead to three in the 10th inning. Combine that with a couple of key plays by him in the field and it was a performance impressive enough to earn Most Outstanding Player honors.

MORE: Wes Johnson, Corey Collins soak up special night for Georgia Baseball

The Bulldogs wouldn’t have been in extras though if it wasn’t for Phelps and Branch. Leading off the eighth and the ninth, each hit a solo home run to eventually tie Tech at five. Phelps has come on strong this season, making his way back from a knee injury many feared would end his freshman campaign. He hit four home runs in the three-game set at South Carolina to earn SEC Freshman of the Week. Meanwhile, Branch set a new school record for grand slams in a season on Saturday when he knocked his fourth out of Foley Field against UNC-Wilmington. Georgia as a team has hit 12 grand slams in their school-record 145 home runs this season.

Georgia doesn’t set itself up with defense in mind most of the time, especially in the outfield. That almost came back to bite the Bulldogs over the weekend with a couple of costly errors. Goldstein moved back into the lineup on Saturday with his corner outfield defense in mind while the likes of Clayton Chadwick, Dillon Carter and Paul Toetz are regulars out there as well. Each brings power to the plate that allows Georgia to overlook the occasional defensive miscue and bodes well for the Bulldogs when in a smaller park like Foley Field.

Kari Hodges / UGA Sports Communications

PITCHING PREVIEW

Like NC State it seems, Georgia’s pitching hasn’t always been reliable, and fans find themselves holding their breath at times hoping that UGA can just hold serve. It’s gotten better thanks to the time spent with Wes Johnson, but the kind of desired depth for the postseason isn’t there. That being said, the best-of-three series format of the super regionals bodes better for the Bulldogs than the bracket style double-elimination format of last weekend and next week in Omaha for whoever advances out of Athens.

Leighton Finley started Georgia’s opener in the regional against Army and didn’t have his best day. He threw just 3.2 innings – his shortest outing since early March – and gave up four runs on five hits. That being said, the 81 pitches allowed Finley to return for an inning in the final game against Georgia Tech, providing UGA with a key three outs to seal the deal in the 10th inning. Johnson told reporters Finley wasn’t happy with his outing but that the Bulldogs knew they’d likely need his help later on. They got that, and for the most part, he’s been consistent as of late. allowing just a combined five runs in the four outings (22.0 innings) prior to the tournament.

Finley entered the season as a starter. That wasn’t the case for Kolten Smith or Zach Harris. In part due to a pair of injuries suffered this spring by Georgia’s opening day starter Charlie Goldstein, Smith and Harris have been products of Johnson’s development. Smith struck out 12 in an outstanding 8.0 inning outing against Florida to end the regular season while Harris is coming off of his best career outing against Georgia Tech, going 6.0 innings with six strikeouts.

Speaking of Goldstein, it’s doubtful we see him this weekend as he exited his return appearance to the mound with a third arm injury of the season after just one batter on Sunday. Smith could also be considered questionable as Johnson told reporters after his outing against UNC-Wilmington he was dealing with some cramping in his arm. It’s the same diagnosis Goldstein was given before a month-long absence, although Johnson indicated UGA believed Smith would be available later in the regional if needed.

WATCH: Super Regional Preview with On3 NC State site The Wolfpacker

With potential concerns about injuries, Georgia may be hesitant to extend its starters in the same way they have at times meaning more action for the Bulldog bullpen. Out of the bullpen, Brian Zeldin, Christian Mracna, Josh Roberge and Chandler Marsh can be expected to throw. Options deeper down the well include Jarvis Evans, Daniel Padysak, Matthew Hoskins and DJ Radtke, among others. The bullpen has been hit or miss, so the less they’ve got to be out there the better. That being said, they were impressive in the regional – allowing just four runs in a combined 14.1 innings.

THREE QUESTIONS FOR GEORGIA ENTERING THIS WEEKEND

*** Can Georgia get quality starts on the mound, thus allowing itself to rely less on the bullpen?

*** Does Charlie Condon have one final superstar moment at Foley Field?

*** If not Condon (most likely because he’s being pitched around), who gets it done for the Dawgs at the plate?

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