Brown's pitching keeps Georgia in CWS hunt
Thanks to Brooks Brown, the Georgia-South Carolina series isn't over and it now moves into the primetime spotlight.
ATHENS, Ga. -- The inning was over.
Or at least it should have been.
That kept the inning alive. That turned out to be a big mistake.
South Carolina's Andrew Crisp promptly doubled to left, scoring Justin Smoak from second base for a 1-0 Gamecocks lead. Up next, left fielder Robbie Grinestaff singled to right field, scoring Disher and Crisp for the second and third unearned runs of the inning.
One inning. Two days in a row. Three-run deficit.
Only this time, the game wasn't over.
On Saturday, Georgia followed up the three-run first by serving up five consecutive home runs in a six-run second inning en route to a 15-6 loss.
On Sunday, starting pitcher Brooks Brown -- who was selected in the first round of last week's MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks -- didn't carry his misfortune back to the mound.
Instead, he delivered a very workmanlike performance (6 IP, 4 hits, 2 earned runs, 6 strikeouts, 3 walks) and helped Georgia (46-21) to a decisive 11-5 win over the Gamecocks (41-24) in front of a season high and standing-room only crowd of 3,937 at Foley Field -- including several hundred fans sitting on Kudzu Hill beyond the right field fence.
"It's amazing what these kids continue to do," Georgia coach David Perno said. "With it being an elimination game, and the type of start we got off to, I thought it was going to be a struggle all day. I tip my hat to Brooks. He settled in, pitched out of a jam after the tough start and kept us in it. And the offense got going and played to their identity.
"That start was as tough as it gets. We kick a ball or we're out of the inning. If we make that play, we're out of the inning. And then that created the big inning. But they continue to push, they continue to fight and they continue to play for each other."
Truth be told, as good as Brown's recovery was, his teammates' support was just as impressive.
Relief pitchers Rip Warren and Joshua Fields didn't give up a hit and combined for six strikeouts in three innings of work.
And then there was the offense. The Dawgs pounded out 19 hits, lead by four hitters with three hits apiece.
Georgia started its comeback in the fourth. Right fielder Bobby Felmy fought off an 0-2 pitch and singled home Morris from second. Then Jason Jacobs worked a 3-2 count off South Carolina starter Mike Cisco before the catcher deposited a home run over the trees in left center field to make it 4-3.
Two batters later, Cisco exited for reliever Andrew Cruse. His first pitch was a Nuke LaLoosh special that found the screen behind home plate and signaled what was to come for South Carolina the rest of the afternoon.
An RBI single by second baseman Matthew Dunn tied the score at 4-4, and then a Cruse wild pitch gave the Dawgs a 5-4 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"I didn't get the start I wanted," Brown said. "But I felt if I kept it at three or four runs, with the offense we've got, I knew we had a chance. I got in a hole, but they came back and gave me the lead and it kept building. It just gives you more confidence."
Not only did the entire Georgia team need to recover from a bad last outing, but so did Brown, who improved to 8-4 with the win. The junior right-hander was coming off one of his worst starts of the season, in which he allowed six earned runs (including three homers) in six innings during the Dawgs' 6-4 loss to Florida State on June 3.
"I didn't think he changed at all the whole game," Jacobs said of his batterymate. "As far as pitching with more confidence, when you're down, you're kind of stepping on glass because you don't want to make a mistake and get down by more. When you get a lead, you can come right after them, and that's what he did."
The win carries the Dawgs into Monday's deciding game (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) against South Carolina at the Athens Super Regional, with the winner moving on to face Rice or Oklahoma at the College World Series in Omaha.
Speaking of confidence, Georgia won the coin flip to determine the home team, but the Dawgs' players elected to give up the last at-bats and be the visitor in order to stay in their familiar first-base dugout.
And why not be confident when your team is 7-1 in elimination games this postseason? Georgia went 3-0 in the SEC tournament before losing to Vanderbilt on May 27, and the Dawgs are now 4-0 in elimination games in the NCAA Tournament, including 3-0 at last week's regional here in Athens.
Taking the mound for Georgia will be freshman left-hander Jason Leaver (3-2, 4.87). The normal third-day starter is another freshman left hander in Nathan Moreau (8-1, 5.37), but he got lit up against South Carolina in the SEC tournament, giving up seven earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings. Perno instead has given the nod to a pitcher that the Gamecocks haven't seen.
Starting for South Carolina is sophomore right-hander Wynn Pelzer (5-4, 3.63). He lost to the Dawgs here at Foley Field back on May 5 -- giving up seven earned runs in 7.2 innings. But Pelzer also pitched a complete game last Monday in the Gamecocks' 5-1 regional clinching win over Evansville.
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner is hoping for a repeat performance from Pelzer, because South Carolina's likely bullpen candidates of Chase Tucker (6.75 ERA) and Forrest Beverly (5.63) appear to be no match for the Dawgs' duo of Warren and Fields.
Then again, nobody expected South Carolina to be in a Game 3 at the super regionals after an 11-19 finish to a regular season that started 26-3. So the Gamecocks are a willing participant in a one-game-takes-all for a trip to Omaha.
"Today was a case of outstanding pitching by Brooks Brown," Tanner said. "We're pretty disappointed right now, but we're going to flush this pretty quickly tonight and focus on tomorrow. If we play well, we can win. If Georgia plays well and we play well, I guess it's going to be made for TV."
Thanks to Brooks Brown, this super regional isn't over -- and it now moves into the prime-time spotlight.
David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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