Post-Game Player / Coach Press Conference
HOOVER, ALA.---- Georgia sophomore Alex Wood pitched his first career complete game to lead the Bulldogs to a 3-2 win over Auburn Thursday in an SEC Tournament elimination game at Regions Park.
Wood (5-7) allowed two runs on seven hits with three walks and eight strikeouts in going the distance to keep Georgia's season alive in front of a crowd of 4,570. The Bulldogs improved to 29-29 while the Tigers end the year at 29-29. Georgia will play again Friday night (time TBA) against the loser of the contest featuring top-ranked South Carolina and third-ranked Vanderbilt. The SEC co-champions will square off in the final game of the Thursday session.
Auburn shortstop Casey McElroy gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead when he connected for his ninth home run of the year to leadoff the fourth inning. Auburn looked on the verge of a big inning as catcher Tony Caldwell followed with a double and then Wes Gilmer put down a sacrifice bunt and Wood's throw to first was wide of the bag for an error. With runners at the corners and nobody out, Wood battled back to strikeout first baseman Kevin Patterson, left fielder Cullen Wacker and got designated hitter Zach Alvord to bounce into a fielder's choice to keep it 1-0.
"Today was the first time in a while we were able to avoid a big inning and credit Alex Wood for getting out of that big jam," said Georgia coach David Perno. "We made our hits count today and took advantage of the one mistake that Auburn made."
In the fifth, Auburn took advantage of a couple of two-out walks to push its lead to 2-0 following a run-scoring single by Caldwell. Georgia looked to rally in the bottom of the frame with one-out singles from third baseman Curt Powell and catcher Brandon Stephens. However, right fielder Peter Verdin (3-for-4) bounced one to shortstop and the Tigers turned a double play that featured a close call at first to send it to the sixth.
Georgia grabbed a 3-2 advantage with a three-run outburst in the sixth as the Tigers made a critical error that allowed a pair of runs to score. Junior second baseman Levi Hyams started the Bulldog rally with a base hit and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Conor Welton. Shortstop Kyle Farmer moved him to third with a base hit to right. Junior left fielder Zach Cone got the Bulldogs on the scoreboard in the SEC Tournament with an RBI-double and Farmer went to third. Designated hitter Chase Davidson grounded to McElory and his throw was off the mark. Farmer scored on the play to tie the game and when the throw dribbled away from Patterson, Cone raced home with the go-ahead run.
In the bottom of the seventh, Verdin notched his second hit of the afternoon and then with one out, Welton got his second hit which ended right-hander Derek Varnadore's outing. Auburn turned to right-hander Slade Smith to face Farmer and Cone, and he retired them both. Varnadore (6-3), who tossed a complete game shutout of the Bulldogs on May 7 in Auburn, went 6.1 innings and allowed three runs on 10 hits Thursday. Meanwhile, Wood said he felt good in going the distance and credited the Bulldog hitters for coming through to aid in the victory. Georgia bounced back from a 10-0 loss to the Commodores Wednesday when it managed just one hit and saw the game end in the seventh due to the mercy rule.
"What I said to the team after that and today wasn't PG-rated," Perno added. "I told them flat out that you don't want to be remembered as the sympathy team; the team that played a tough schedule and faced adversity. You want to be respected, and we didn't play like that on Wednesday. I was proud of how they came out today and played closer to our identity."