After a disappointing season in 2013, Georgia baseball is aiming for a trip to Omaha this year.
To say that feat won’t be easy would be an understatement. Last season’s 21-32 overall record won’t get them there. Neither will an 8-13 road record, or a 7-20 conference record. However, head coach Scott Stricklin has the Bulldogs going in the right direction in his first season at the helm of the program.
“We’re not trying to change the world here,” Stricklin said. “We’re just trying to make improvements a little bit at the time.
That’s Stricklin’s motto.
“It’s awesome,” junior infielder Nelson Ward said. “The big thing he talks about is attention to detail, and he’s really brought that to our attention. It’s something that’s really helped out in every aspect of the game.”
Georgia’s seven wins in SEC play was the least in the conference last season. Those small improvements, in Stricklin’s opinion, will rocket them to a higher SEC ranking right off the bat.
“We’ve set some goals and we’ve set those off of last year’s numbers,” Stricklin said. “If you make little improvements in every category, you go from the bottom to the middle of the pack right away, and those are just little improvements.”
Some of those areas Stricklin plans to focus on are simple; communicating, hitting cutoff men, getting bunts down and getting runners over. If Georgia can do those little things correctly, its season has serious potential.
“I honestly believe that little details matter,” Stricklin said. “It comes down to the little things, and we want our guys doing things the right way, saying things the right way, acting the right way, and it’s an everyday process. You can’t just do it one day and not the next. They know that little details are going to matter. It’s not an every other day thing.”
If Stricklin’s players take a day, or even a play off, he’s going to make it known.
“He’s a very high energy guy,” junior outfielder and third baseman Hunter Cole said. “We love having him around. He stays on us on and off the field, and we’re focused in the classroom and every day at practice. (He’s) big on hustle and having a positive mentality. He’s quick to get on you.”
Georgia’s coaching changes have created new energy all over the roster, especially in its pitching staff.
Georgia hired Fred Corral as its pitching coach in June. He’s gotten respect everywhere he’s been and Georgia’s pitchers are reaping the benefits of his expertise.
“He’s been outstanding. He’s as good as they come,” Stricklin said. “The pitchers, you talk to any one of them and they’ve got a ton of respect for him. He’s got a lot of knowledge. He’s very intelligent, but he’s able to teach it in a way that’s fun for them.”
After all, baseball is supposed to be fun.
The Dawgs, however, aren’t so loose when they look back on last season’s woes. It happened, and while in the past, knowledge of it is necessary to avoid similar speed bumps in 2014.
“They certainly do have a chip on their shoulder and they feel that,” Stricklin said. “They feel that last year was a tough year. It was a tough year not only for them, but for our fan base, for the University of Georgia and for our baseball program. They do have a chip on their shoulder and they’ve worked very hard.”
Speaking of last season, former head coach David Perno is not a ghost of the past. He’s still an avid fan of Georgia’s program. Stricklin has spoken to Perno since his departure, and found he has the support of Georgia’s former coach.
“He’s a Bulldog,” Stricklin said. “He’s always been a Bulldog and I think he’s always going to be one. He congratulated me and encouraged me on the team and let me know I had a good group of kids and I was inheriting them, and I did find that out.”
It’s a new year and a new team, even without the addition of new coaches. Freshmen like Michael Bell and Stephen Wrenn will man the defense and be depended on for run production, while Robert Tyler, Ryan Lawlor and Connor Jones will be the players Georgia asks to keep opposing runners off the base path.
“I think we’re all ready for a fresh start,” redshirt senior pitcher Dylan Cole said. “You’ve got all new coaches and you’ve got a whole lot of new guys. We’ve got a good bit of guys returning, core guys, but we’ve got a couple of freshmen we think can really have a good shot to make an impact for us.”
This team certainly has potential as it approaches its first series with Georgia Southern on Feb. 14, but there are plenty of games on the schedule ranging past opening weekend. The Dawgs must be consistent.
“We’re going to have some adversity,” Stricklin said. “We’re going to have some ups and downs in baseball, but you’ve got to know how to handle it. You’ve got to keep everybody pulling the rope in the same direction.”
At the moment, that direction is a positive one.
“They’re anxious, they’re excited, and we’re ready for Feb. 14 to get here,” Stricklin said.