ATHENS – I went to the Georgia baseball game last night fully expecting to see them fall to Georgia Tech. They didn’t.
On what was basically staff pitching night for both teams, the Bulldogs were far better. Six UGA pitchers fanned 15 Tech batters on the way to a 5-1 victory. It was an impressive win.
Georgia (15-19) has now won three of the last four against the Yellow Jackets (16-15) after taking two of three in the annual series last year. They’ll play again on April 25 in Atlanta and May 9 at SunTrust Park.
Maybe I should’ve expected a Georgia victory. Not a lot has gone right for fourth-year coach Scott Stricklin during his tenure at UGA – his record is 94-106-1 – but he has managed to hold his own against the Bulldogs’ most hated rival. They are now 5-4 against the Jackets under Stricklin, who played for Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall at Kent State and then served as an assistant for him on the Flats.
But that’s about the only thing that has truly gone well for Stricklin as Georgia’s skipper. The question I probably get asked as often as any regarding non-football matters is, “what in the world happened to the Georgia baseball program?”
My answer? Beats the heck out of me. I mean, I can look at the stats and tell you that they’re not pitching well and their defense is shaky and they can’t hit a lick. All that stuff is obvious.
But how exactly they got here? Hard to say. As ever, it always comes down to recruiting and getting lots good players. If they haven’t or why, I can’t say for sure. I simply don’t follow college baseball recruiting close enough to say.
I do know Georgia has some good young players now. That was on full display Tuesday night as the Bulldogs started six freshmen and three sophomores in the win over Tech. The winning pitcher was a freshman (Zac Kristofak) and the leading hitter was a freshman (shortstop Cam Shepherd went 2-for-3 with homer and two runs scored).
Being young is what has held back the Bulldogs so far, according to Stricklin.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” he said. “You put guys out there that are very talented, but they’re seeing things for the first time. They’re seeing guys that are a little faster, a little stronger, throw with a little more velocity, bigger crowds. You know, all this stuff is new to them. What you want to see as the season goes on is they’re not as wide-eyed.”
The obvious question is, why is Georgia such a young team in Year 4 of Stricklin’s tenure? Shouldn’t this be about the time that he’s fielding his most seasoned club?
I’m sure Stricklin and Greg McGarity, the athletic director who hired him, can readily supply reasons for that. But Division I college athletics always boils down to results, and the results just haven’t been there for UGA baseball.
Stricklin entered this year without having logged a winning season or earning an NCAA berth with the Bulldogs. He’s 29 games under .500 in SEC play at the halfway point of his fourth conference season. Georgia travels to Arkansas for a three-game set against the 15th-ranked Razorbacks that starts Thursday.
I must admit, I didn’t see this coming for Stricklin. Though I’m on record as not being in favor of David Perno’s dismissal, I was thoroughly impressed with Stricklin’s appointment and was sure he’d get it done at Georgia. Perhaps it was because of what I was hearing for my old pal and former Red & Black colleague, Jim Callis.
Since our college days at UGA, Callis had worked at Baseball America, rose to the position of editor and publisher and is now a senior writer at MLB.com. The dude has covered every kind of baseball at every level for years and has been tabbed as a national expert, particularly when it comes to scouting and the draft. And Callis swore by Stricklin. Called it a “home run hire.” Said the former Kent State head coach was a wiz with pitchers. Said his connections in East Cobb as a former Georgia Tech assistant were going to bolster recruiting. Callis was absolutely giddy when his alma mater acquired Stricklin to lead the program. So that’s what I was hearing when he came on board.
Then I got to meet Stricklin. Eventually I got to know him a little bit. I’ve seen him at work for a while now. He seems tireless and meticulous in that regard. From a PR standpoint, he’s accessible and well-spoken and enthusiastic. My kid plays in the Oconee County Little League. Every year, Stricklin gets up early on a Saturday morning in February and conducts a little coaches’ clinic for all us clueless dads. He goes to my church, which is endearing to me at least.
From all that I say, “What’s not to like?” But that’s ignoring the on-field results. And, as we all know, results cannot be ignored.
Based on what I’ve seen, whoever coaches this team next year should have a good squad. Whether that’s Scott Stricklin or not is going to be a tough call for McGarity.