ATHENS — The narrative has switched on the Georgia baseball season, from Scott Stricklin’s job status to, wow, this is a pretty dang good team.
If you haven’t been paying attention, the Diamond Dawgs are winning this season. As in, a lot.
Not only has Georgia won six of its last seven games and just swept Missouri on the road, but it has won 33 of 47 overall this season. As a result, the Bulldogs enter their tussle Tuesday with Georgia Tech at SunTrust Park with a rather gaudy RPI of No. 4.
A win over Yellow Jackets (27-21) would constitute yet another series sweep for Georgia. The Bulldogs also swept Tech last year, and a win Tuesday would give the Bulldogs their first six-game winning streak in the storied rivalry since 1987.
That’s all cool, but the real story about this team is its players. The Bulldogs have a bunch of good ones, and that has made all the difference.
The one you’ll hear most about Tuesday night as the SEC Network broadcasts the game is Adam Sasser. The big first baseman from Evans (he’s 6-foot-4, 245 pounds) hit 4 home runs at Missouri — including a school record-tying 3 in one game — knocked in 10 runs and hit .538. Not surprisingly, Sasser came away with SEC Player of the Week honors on Monday, but also was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Week. The junior leads the team with a .343 batting average, ranks second on the club with 8 home runs and third in RBI with 39.
The player that really intrigues me, though, is Aaron Schunk.
A quick aside. I remember talking to Stricklin midway through last season and asking him what was going wrong and, among of litany of things he mentioned was that losing a freshman named Schunk to a thumb injury had been a big blow. He said not only was the kid a good hitter and fielder at third base, but he was also an overpowering pitcher and he was just about to unleash him in the bullpen when the broken digit derailed those plans.
I’m thinking, yeah, right, the untested freshman was a real difference-maker.
Yeah, well, he is. Schunk has been nothing short of fantastic all season, as he has served the Bulldogs in the dual role of third baseman and closer. Hailing just down the road from SunTrust — he attended Atlanta’s Lovett School — the sophomore is batting .316 with 31 RBI while also recording 7 saves in 8 opportunities with a 2.49 ERA. With the bat, Schunk is working on his second hitting streak of the season, having hit in 15 straight and is batting .375 overall in that span.
But this is a squad with no limit of standouts, including senior outfielder Keegan McGovern, who’s hitting .323 and leads the team with 13 homers, DH Michael Curry, who has a team-best 43 RBI, and sophomore Cam Shepherd, who hasn’t had a great year at the plate but continually flashes the leather at shortstop and leads in the dugout. From a bunch of difference sources — including freshman C.J. Smith, who will pitch Tuesday — Georgia’s team ERA is down nearly a run and a half from a season ago.
The Bulldogs have put it all together for what has to date been a very special season. And, yes, it’s well-timed for Stricklin, who entered Year 5 at the helm without having steered Georgia to an NCAA Tournament bid. That significant blemish finally should be blotted out this year, as likely will be talk of another coaching change.
Regardless of what happens Tuesday night, the Bulldogs will have bragging rights over Tech for another year. Meanwhile, real challenges lay ahead. There is the series at No. 1 Florida this weekend, the only team that sits above Georgia in the East Division standings. And, for the first time in a while, the Bulldogs will have a prominent spot in the SEC Tournament bracket.
Both Stricklin and AD Greg McGarity pointed to this season as the one in which everything should come together for Georgia. It has, indeed, and just in the nick of time.