Georgia baseball avenges embarrassing loss to NC State, evens NCAA Athens Super Regional

N.C. State had to expect the wrath of the Georgia Bulldogs on Sunday.

Embarrassed at home in the opening game of the Athens Super Regional, the Bulldogs rebounded emphatically in the second game, evening the series with an 11-2 blasting of the Wolfpack at Foley Field.

The winner-take-all third game, with a berth in the College World Series on the line, will be played Monday at 7 p.m.

“It comes down to Game 3, which with two great teams it probably ought to,” NCSU coach Elliot Avent said.

After being smashed 18-1 on Saturday, when the Pack scored 11 times in the second inning, the Bulldogs were the visiting team Sunday and quickly took charge.

Second baseman Slate Alford cracked a two-run homer in the first inning, and designated hitter Tre Phelps a three-run shot to deep center with two outs in the third for a 5-0 lead.

The Georgia lead grew from there — to 10-0 before the Pack scored a couple of runs, the second on an eighth-inning homer by catcher Jacob Cozart. It was his third of the Super Regional and 19th of the season, the ball hit so hard it knocked a few panels out of the big scoreboard in right.

“For us, the bounce-back was huge, just staying focused and playing the game,” Georgia coach Wes Johnson said.

It was a nightmarish start for the Wolfpack’s Dominic Fritton, a sophomore lefthander facing a Georgia lineup with seven right-handed hitters. It also made things easier for Georgia starter Leighton Finley, a righthander who many had expected to start the opening game Saturday.

“He didn’t really make any mistakes, and when pitchers don’t make mistakes and pitch to their plan, it usually ends up going really well,” Wolfpack first baseman Garrett Pennington said.

The 6-5 sophomore pitched into the seventh inning for the Bulldogs (42-16), the No. 7 national seed, allowing one run on eight hits and striking out five before reliever Brian Zeldin took over.

“Finley was outstanding,” Avent said. “It was kind of a similar game to yesterday. Couple of bunts down, they hit two or three home runs and got him some quick runs and got us down, and the way Smith was pitching it made it tough for us.”

It was State’s first NCAA loss after the No. 10 seed swept through the Raleigh Regional and then won Saturday at Georgia.

“Some things didn’t go our way and baseball happens,” Pennington said.

Fritton gave up seven hits and was charged with seven runs while throwing 50 pitches in three innings. Freshman lefty Ryan Marohn came on in relief, but the Bulldogs led 8-0 after batting in the fourth — Marohn hitting Phelps with a pitch with the bases loaded.

Outfielder Paul Toetz had a two-out solo homer off Marohn in the sixth for a 9-0 lead. Corey Collins later had the Bulldogs’ fourth home run of the day.

Luke Nixon scored the Pack’s first run in the seventh on a fielder’s-choice groundout by Noah Soles.

The Wolfpack (37-21) had 20 hits in the opener as Cozart slugged two of the Pack’s five homers. Sam Highfill pitched a masterful six innings, allowing one run on four hits, and the Pack made all the plays, defensively and with its base-running.

But there were indications early Sunday it would not be the Wolfpack’s day.

There was Alford’s home run in the top of the first for the 2-0 lead. That was the quick start the Bulldogs wanted — and the Wolfpack wanted to prevent.

In the bottom of the second, the Pack got its first two batters on base. But Cozart was thrown out at third attempting to advance on a short flyout for a double play, then Brandon Butterworth was thrown out at second attempting a steal.

“That’s what good teams can do when you’re in their situation,” Johnson said of the Pack’s base-running. “You can force some issues and try to get some things going and hopefully get us rattled again. ... There’s the difference, right, yesterday and today? Yesterday, we didn’t execute on some defensive plays.”

The Pack is expected to turn to Logan Whitaker in the deciding game Monday. The big righthander was at his best a week ago in a quality start against James Madison as State clinched the Raleigh Regional at Doak Field.

With both of the first two games blowouts, neither team has had to overtax its bullpen. Neither Jacob Dudan nor Derrick Smith has been used by the Pack in the Super Regional — the Pack sent out Marohn, then Hollis Fanning and Carson Kelly on Sunday.