By: Fletcher Keel | WCTV Eyewitness Sports
May 29, 2019
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- For the first time since 2010, the Florida State baseball team is leaving the friendly confines of Dick Howser Stadium for the NCAA Baseball Regionals.
This year sees them travel north on I-75 to Athens, Georgia, where the triple-threat of the Georgia Bulldogs, Mercer Bears and Florida Atlantic Owls awaits them as the Seminoles seek to send Mike Martin to a Super Regional, and beyond, in his final year at the helm.
To dive deeper into the Athens Regional, I reached out to Anthony Dasher, publisher and author for UGASports.com on the Rivals network. Anthony has covered UGA for over 20 years and was incredibly thorough in what Noles fans can expect to see from the Silver Britches this weekend.
WCTV: The Bulldogs garnered not only 44 wins this year, but the #4 overall seed in the field of 64. What were the expectations of this team heading into the year and what led to them meeting/surpassing them?
Anthony Dasher: Expectations were very high. Georgia was a No. 8 Seed last year but lost in the finals of the Athens Regional to Duke, a defeat that left an extremely sour taste in the mouths of the players, who talked all season about not only getting back, but making it further than they did last year. This is a team built around pitching and defense. Georgia's team ERA of 3.10 is a program low, and statistically have the best defense its ever had with a fielding percentage of .981, .987 in the SEC.
Offensively, this is a not a team that's going to blow you away with their numbers, but have surpassed by one the number of home runs (65) than they hit a season ago. However, if Georgia advances, it's going to be the pitching that makes it happens. This staff is the best I've seen with the Bulldogs in the 22 years I've been covering the program.
WCTV: On paper, Aaron Schunk, JL Talley and John Cable set the pace on offense for UGA, all hitting over .310 and all have at least 40 RBI. What is it that makes each so dangerous?
AD: I think the fact that they're all veterans. Schunk - who doubles as the team's closer with 12 saves - has hit third all season long, and has developed into a fine player. The junior has only struck out 26 times in 214 at-bats for Georgia, and is typically the guy in the middle of the lineup who gets it going. Schunk leads the team with 11 home runs.
Talley is a four-year senior starter at second base and has hit cleanup all year. He's a left-handed hitter, considered along with Schunk to be the team's best clutch player as he's come up with numerous big hits throughout the year.
Cable is actually a graduate transfer from New Orleans. Initially, Cable was just a platoon player against right-handed pitchers but hit so well that he forced his way into the lineup. Of his 53 hits, 15 have gone for doubles along with seven home runs.
WCTV: Outside of those three, who are some dangerous bats for FSU fans to keep an eye out for?
AD: There's a few. Center fielder and leadoff hitter Tucker Maxwell won't wow you with his average (.228) but he has 10 home runs and leads the Bulldogs with 20 stolen bases in 23 attempts. Ditto for shortstop Cam Shepherd, who has made only three errors at shortstop all year, but has six home runs over the past three-plus weeks. Both Maxwell and Shepherd are three-year starters.
Riley King (.295-8-42) only played in three games last year, but up until the SEC Tournament was batting well over .300. I'd put him in the same group with Schunk, Talley and Cable.
WCTV: The Dawgs have the second-best ERA in the SEC entering Regional play and the best team ERA in the Regional. What is Georgia’s pitching philosophy?
AD: As I mentioned, Georgia has the best pitching staff I've seen since I've been covering the team, with three of the four starters throwing 97-plus. Emerson Hancock (8-2, 1.56) is the ace. A four-pitch pitcher, Hancock will break out an excellent change-up to go along with a slider and curve, holding teams to one run or less in nine of his 13 starts.
Hancock held Vanderbilt to just four hits in seven innings and LSU to just two in eighth. Hancock has allowed just 49 hits with 18 walks in 86.1 innings.
Junior right-hander Locey (10-2, 2.68) hasn't been far behind. Locey can be wild at times (44 walks in 84 innings), but has allowed just 48 hits with 90 strikeouts.
Elliott is a junior with probably the Georgia's most cerebral starter. He's primarily been the Bulldogs' mid-week guy, posting a 6-3 record with a 2.70 ERA. Elliott can get the ball up in the low 90s, can throw three other pitches for strikes.
Against Hancock, Locey and Elliott, opponents are batting .167, .167 and .174, respectively. Freshman Cole Wilcox will quite likely get a start. Wilcox was projected a first-round pick in last year's draft, but told teams he was coming to Georgia and the Bulldogs are certainly glad he did. Wilcox (3-1, 3.70) - who has been clocked at 100 mph - got off to a slow start, but has really come on in the past month, beating Florida (7 IP, 2 hits, 7 Ks) and Alabama (6 IP, 5 hits, 7 Ks) in his only two SEC starts. He followed that up with six innings of three-hit ball against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament. Simply put, it's a power-arm staff.
Everybody - relievers included - will bring it up 90-plus.
WCTV: Non-sports question, if you’ll allow; a lot of folks will be traveling up to Athens from Tallahassee – what are some spots they should check out between games?
AD: The botanical garden is nice, but Athens is best known for its downtown scene. As far as college towns go, it's always been rated as one of the best, with a very eclectic music scene. REM, the B-52 and Widespread Panic all got their start here. On the weekends, there's tons of bars with live music, with other eclectic shops and stores.
WCTV: Do you have an overall regional prediction? Who will it come down to and who will move on to the Supers?
AD: I think it comes down to Georgia and Florida State. Obviously, the Seminoles have a ton to play for, not only hoping to advance, but also for Coach Martin. What an ambassador he's been for the game. As far as a projection, it's been about pitching for Georgia all year. If the Bulldogs can keep getting the efforts they've received all year, it's going to be tough for FSU. As I mentioned, Georgia is not a bunch of bangers with the bats. It's a team that's built to outlast teams with pitching and defense. Florida State is going to have to pitch extremely well, if it can, then anything can happen. But Georgia - which is 28-3 at Foley Field this year - is going to be extremely tough.
I'd like to again thank Anthony for taking time to answer questions for us. To follow him, and the rest of the UGASports team throughout the weekend, click here.