After a disappointing season in 2013, Georgia baseball is aiming for a trip to Omaha this year.
To say that feat won‚Äôt be easy would be an understatement. Last season‚Äôs 21-32 overall record won‚Äôt 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.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre not trying to change the world here,‚Äù Stricklin said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre just trying to make improvements a little bit at the time.
That‚Äôs Stricklin‚Äôs motto.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs awesome,‚Äù junior infielder Nelson Ward said. ‚ÄúThe big thing he talks about is attention to detail, and he‚Äôs really brought that to our attention. It‚Äôs something that‚Äôs really helped out in every aspect of the game.‚Äù
Georgia‚Äôs seven wins in SEC play was the least in the conference last season. Those small improvements, in Stricklin‚Äôs opinion, will rocket them to a higher SEC ranking right off the bat.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve set some goals and we‚Äôve set those off of last year‚Äôs numbers,‚Äù Stricklin said. ‚ÄúIf 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.‚Äù
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.
‚ÄúI honestly believe that little details matter,‚Äù Stricklin said. ‚ÄúIt 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‚Äôs an everyday process. You can‚Äôt just do it one day and not the next. They know that little details are going to matter. It‚Äôs not an every other day thing.‚Äù
If Stricklin‚Äôs players take a day, or even a play off, he‚Äôs going to make it known.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a very high energy guy,‚Äù junior outfielder and third baseman Hunter Cole said. ‚ÄúWe love having him around. He stays on us on and off the field, and we‚Äôre focused in the classroom and every day at practice. (He‚Äôs) big on hustle and having a positive mentality. He‚Äôs quick to get on you.‚Äù
Georgia‚Äôs 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‚Äôs gotten respect everywhere he‚Äôs been and Georgia‚Äôs pitchers are reaping the benefits of his expertise.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs been outstanding. He‚Äôs as good as they come,‚Äù Stricklin said. ‚ÄúThe pitchers, you talk to any one of them and they‚Äôve got a ton of respect for him. He‚Äôs got a lot of knowledge. He‚Äôs very intelligent, but he‚Äôs able to teach it in a way that‚Äôs fun for them.‚Äù
After all, baseball is supposed to be fun.
The Dawgs, however, aren‚Äôt so loose when they look back on last season‚Äôs woes. It happened, and while in the past, knowledge of it is necessary to avoid similar speed bumps in 2014.
‚ÄúThey certainly do have a chip on their shoulder and they feel that,‚Äù Stricklin said. ‚ÄúThey 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‚Äôve worked very hard.‚Äù
Speaking of last season, former head coach David Perno is not a ghost of the past. He‚Äôs still an avid fan of Georgia‚Äôs program. Stricklin has spoken to Perno since his departure, and found he has the support of Georgia‚Äôs former coach.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a Bulldog,‚Äù Stricklin said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs always been a Bulldog and I think he‚Äôs 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.‚Äù
It‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúI think we‚Äôre all ready for a fresh start,‚Äù redshirt senior pitcher Dylan Cole said. ‚ÄúYou‚Äôve got all new coaches and you‚Äôve got a whole lot of new guys. We‚Äôve got a good bit of guys returning, core guys, but we‚Äôve got a couple of freshmen we think can really have a good shot to make an impact for us.‚Äù
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.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre going to have some adversity,‚Äù Stricklin said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre going to have some ups and downs in baseball, but you‚Äôve got to know how to handle it. You‚Äôve got to keep everybody pulling the rope in the same direction.‚Äù
At the moment, that direction is a positive one.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôre anxious, they‚Äôre excited, and we‚Äôre ready for Feb. 14 to get here,‚Äù Stricklin said.