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Facing Georgia's Charlie Condon through the eyes of opposing pitchers

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Gunnar Dennis was 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate, where the best hitter in college baseball waited to make the score 2-0.

“Pitch to him!” a Georgia fan yelled at the Ole Miss left-hander.”

Ball 3.

“Coward!” another fan shouted this Saturday.

Dennis didn't deliver a home run to the nation's leader in that category, but Condon hit the next pitch for a double, stole third and scored on a throwing error by the catcher.

“He’s a special player,” Dennis said. “Seems like he pretty much blows everything up. The double he hit off me had to be about six to eight inches from the plate, and he just hammered it into right-center field.”

What makes Georgia baseball star Charlie Condon so great

Three days later, fans at Foley Field booed as Clemson intentionally walked out of Condon.

That didn't stop Tigers coach Erik Bakich from trying again, as his team clung to a one-run lead with one out and a runner on first in the ninth inning. He made the game-winning run on second and walked Condon for the winning run on first. Georgia eventually sent the game to overtime and won 15, 4-3.

“I just felt like, you know what, it's the ninth inning, he's the best player in the nation,” Bakich told reporters. “If we get beat, it won’t be because he hits a home run.”

How you pitch in front of Condon — or whether you pitch in front of him at all — is a fascinating story in Georgia games.

After all, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound redshirt sophomore from Marietta leads the NCAA with 30 home runs, a .456 batting average and a 1.088 slugging percentage.

“He’s got crazy numbers and stuff,” Clemson backup Nick Clayton said. “He competes in the box and you know it won’t be easy for him. He won't give away any parking spaces. You have to earn it.”

The third baseman/outfielder is rated as the No. 1 prospect for July's MLB Draft by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline.

“He’s the total package,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “He looks like a big player out there the way he carries himself.”

Condon is riding a 15-game hitting streak in a weekend home series for Georgia (32-12, 10-11 SEC) against Vanderbilt (32-13, 11-10) starting Friday.

“He’s by far the best hitter in the country right now,” Ole Miss pitcher Liam Doyle said. “He’s definitely the best of the best right now.”

Doyle got Condon to get a strikeout on a pitch high and outside in the first game of a doubleheader on April 20 when the count was 1-2.

He allowed a double on his next at-bat, and when he was at the plate for the third time, Condon hit him with a 2-1 pitch over the left-field fence for his 25Th Home run.

“Made a change for him,” Doyle said.

“You better make really good throws in the strike zone to get it,” said Georgia coach Wes Johnson, a former Minnesota Twins pitching coach. “He will occasionally chase out of the strike zone, but very rarely. …I think everyone is human, right? I'm from the big leagues. Mike Trout has a hole. Shohei Ohtani has a hole, and if you can get to her hole in the bottom corners, you can get her out.”

How teams will pitch Charlie Condon

Condon was intentionally killed 17 times, compared to three times for the other Bulldogs.

“I would use the old No. 24 a lot if I were going against him,” Johnson said. “This guy is just so dangerous.”

Condon set the school's career home run record last weekend and now has 55 in 100 games. Former MLB first-round draft pick Gordon Beckham hit 53 home runs in 197 games.

Condon averages 0.68 home runs per game. That's just better than Augusta's Keith Hammond's 1987 NCAA record of .78.

“You have to have your best stuff, no matter what it is,” Doyle said. “We went in as a team and tried to eliminate him, to act as if we had always been 0-2 on him. If you miss deep, pass him, hit him, it's not the end of the world. …You have to be able to hit him hard — sliders, anything off the plate. Make sure he swings with your shots, not you dictating his shots.”

Dennis, whom Condon hit hard twice in the second game of a doubleheader but went just 1 for 3 against him by knocking him out with a slider, said: “I was just trying to fill the zone. He is human. He will get out.”

Bianco said Condon “hits all the throws, which is a little unusual.” Usually these guys have some kind of hole, but it's not very big, but if you can get there, you can get him. I don't know if he does. He seems to be on the fastball. If you try to penetrate him, he will succeed. If you're trying to throw away breaking balls, you're better off getting it away. If you leave it at all, it will cause damage.”

According to a post by MLB Draft writer Willie Hood

Clemson's Clayton said he wanted to throw Condon inside and throw him from distance at varying speeds, thinking a release would result in weak contact and keep him from throwing the ball up.

“I kind of pushed through and stayed ahead,” he said.

He was able to deny Condon an inside fastball to go 1-2 in his one-at-bat against him. He beat him with a changeup away at 81 MPH.

“Before we went out there, we talked about how we were going to be aggressive all night,” Clemson right-hander Billy Barlow said. “We won't be afraid to do anything, we'll just do what we do best. It really got on his nerves straight away. He's a big guy. He competes really hard. He has a very big presence in the penalty area.”

Barlow hit Condon, who was swinging outside on an 84 mph slider, prompting a double play.

“There was a changeup I left over the middle that luckily he didn’t attack,” Barlow said. “Everyone makes mistakes, but thank God he didn’t make me pay for them.”

Georgia baseball is deeper than Charlie Condon

Making matters worse for the teams facing Georgia is Corey Collins, who often joins Condon in the lead on the No. 2 hole. Collins leads the nation in on-base percentage with .599. He walked 40 times and was hit by a pitch of 20.

“You'd like to take Charlie really hard, and if you go with him, that's fine,” Bianco said. “Sometimes we said throw it over the edge and if you go with it, you go with it.”

He said Dylan Goldstein (.314, 11 homers) and Slate Alford (.308, 12 homers) behind him in the order made it “difficult to get your bearings.”

Condon is the toughest.

Johnson, who has coached as an assistant at LSU, Arkansas and Mississippi State, thinks of Mets star Pete Alonso at Florida in 2016 and Dylan Crews (No. 2 overall pick) as a player with the Tigers last season to which he can compare Condon at the collegiate level.

“Charlie is special,” Johnson said. “Coaches hope to coach a guy like him every ten years.”

Anna Harden

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