Athens – In the biggest game of the year, Michael Palazzone came up with his biggest game.
After getting knocked around for three runs in the second inning and another in the third, Georgia’s talented right-hander settled down and pitched nearly flawlessly the rest of the way as the Bulldogs came from behind to defeat No. 3 Vanderbilt 5-4 at Foley Field.
Palazzone threw 62 pitches in the first three innings but just 54 over the final six frames. Only six of those were balls as be retired 19 of the last 20 batters he faced.
“That was as good as I’ve seen him all year,” Georgia coach David Perno said. “To rebound and do what he did against a team like Vanderbilt was unbelievable.”
The Bulldogs were counting on him. Normally Georgia’s second-game starter in SEC series, Perno elected to move up Palazzone to the first day in order to break their streak of poor SEC starts – they’d lost the first game in the last five conference series – and set the pitching for the rest of the weekend.
As for stakes, they could not have gotten much bigger. Georgia (28-26, 16-12 SEC) desperately needs every victory it can get to ensure itself of finishing above .500 for the season. Though the Bulldogs have already clinched a spot in next week’s SEC Tournament, they have to finish with a winning record to meet the NCAA’s criteria for post-season play.
All that seemed in doubt when Palazzone found himself behind 3-0 with one out in the second inning.
“Coach said ‘keep us in it here; don’t let it get away,’” said Palazzone, who gave up eight hits with six strikeouts and two walks. “And that’s what we were able to do. I got a little out of rhythm there early. I changed a few things around and it worked out.”
It was Palazzone’s sixth win this year over a Top 20 opponent. He improves to 9-3 overall. Vanderbilt falls to 42-9 (20-8 SEC).
Georgia scratched out four of its five runs against one of the SEC’s best pitchers in Vanderbilt’s Sonny Gray. The Bulldogs got a pair of solo home runs early – Gray had given up only two all season previously – then manufactured single runs in the fourth and sixth.
“We single-runned them to death tonight,” said Peter Verdin, who went 3-of-4 and hit his first home run of the season. “We were on the brink of a big inning a couple of times, but that’s just the kind of pitcher Gray is.”
The Bulldogs scored the winning run when Kyle Farmer came home from third on a bases-loaded, two-outs wild pitch by Will Clinard in the seventh.
“It was at a weird angle and I couldn’t see the ball,” said Farmer, who hesitated before breaking for the plate. “I looked at our bench and I saw Coach Perno out there waving his arms around. When the head coach says run, you run.”
Chase Davidson hit a towering home run to straght-away center field in the second and Farmer had two hits. Third baseman Curt Powell also had two hits and scored two runs for Georgia.
“That was the key for us, the bottom of the order,}Perno said. “Powell had a couple of big hits, Delmonico had some great at-bats and Verdin was phenomenal. I thought that was the difference in the game.”
The Bulldogs will have big stakes on the line again Friday night as sophomore Alex Wood gets the start. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m.
“We’re a scrappy team,” Farmer said. “We’re Bulldogs. Now we have to take this momentum and win another one tomorrow.”