Expectations are high around Georgia baseball as the season begins Friday.
The Bulldogs enter the season having secure spots in several preseason rankings, including D1Baseball (No. 9), the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (No. 12), USA Today (No. 13) and Baseball America (No. 15). This after the Bulldogs finished the 2018 regular season 39-19 (18-12 SEC) and earning a No. 8 seed to host a NCAA Regional.
The unexpected success from last year, capped with the heartbreak in the two-game loss to Duke that knocked Georgia out of advancing to the next round of the NCAA tournament, fuels the expected success for this season.
Coach Scott Stricklin, who is in his sixth season at the helm of Georgia’s program, said he expected the team to be ranked. But with expectation comes a responsibility of putting in the work that leads to success. While they have moved on from the 2018 season, it can help motivate older members of the team.
“We also have a lot of older guys, guys who went through it last year, guys that had a taste of success, but also had the heartbreak at the end of the year,” Stricklin said.
“You want to see your guys grow from that and learn from that, play with a chip on their shoulder and play some really hard-nose baseball. And I think we’ve got the makeup of a team to do that.”
Stricklin returns 25 players for the coming season, one of whom is junior Aaron Schunk. He is a third baseman and closer for the Bulldogs and was named a preseason third-team All-American. Schunk said he holds high exceptions for himself, as he continues to individually work on his defense and pitch selection.
Schunk deserves the accolades, Stricklin said. He started all 60 games at third base and batted .299. He also closed games for Georgia, recording eight saves with a 3.00 ERA.
“When the games on the line we are going to rely on him,” Stricklin said. “And again he is the perfect guy to do that with. He’s got the right personality for it, extremely hard worker, really competitive and very talented.”
Yet, even with 25 returning players, the Bulldogs lost key hitters such as Keegan McGovern, Michael Curry and Adam Sasser. Stricklin views this season as an opportunity for a more collective effort from the team and more chances for some athletes who either did not play as much or are new to Georgia to step into a new role.
Stricklin named players such as Cam Shepherd, Tucker Bradley, LJ Talley, Mason Meadows and Schunk as returning members he expects to help lead the success in batting. He also sees newcomers like Riley King, grad transfer John Cable and Connor Tate as players who can make an impact.
When it comes to who will be on the mound, Georgia is set with available starting pitchers and bullpen. His main focus for his pitchers is to throw more strikes, getting ahead in the count early in the count.
Stricklin named Emerson Hancock, Tony Locey, Will Proctor and C.J. Smith as pitchers in the mix. Freshman Cole Wilcox stands out to Stricklin and said he could pitch a number of innings for the Bulldogs, but the decision on if he is a starter has not been decided. Stricklin also mentioned Tim Elliott and Ryan Webb as pitchers who have made jumps recently and have the potential.
Georgia opens its season at home Friday with a three-game series against Dayton, and will provide Stricklin and his team with an image of where the team stands heading into the 2019 season.
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