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Steffenie Burns/UGA
Georgia baseball suffered a bitter and disappointing ending to the season against Duke in the NCAA Athens Regional, but the Bulldogs far exceeded expectations for 2018. The prospects are promising for 2019.

What are expectations for UGA baseball, softball going forward?

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Did Georgia’s baseball and softball teams meet expectations, fail to meet expectations, or exceed expectations this year? Also, what can we hope for from each team going forward?

— Ben Deck, Washington N.C.

Good to hear from you again, Ben, and great question as always. In both cases, it appears Georgia exceeded expectations.

As for the baseball team, the Bulldogs were picked to finish fifth in the East.  They finished second in the East and tied for the second-best conference record. The SEC still recognizes divisions in baseball, so being picked fifth on one side could equate to being rated anywhere from, say, sixth to 10th overall. But, generally, the West is considered the stronger of the two divisions in that sport. Not a lot was expected of the Diamond Dawgs in Year 5 of coach Scott Stricklin.

As it turned out, Georgia managed to lock down a national seed and host an NCAA Regional, which absolutely no one predicted. Also, the team improved dramatically in all three areas of the game: pitching, hitting and defense. The staff ERA of 3.97 was one of the lowest in 50 years. The Bulldogs hit .282 as a team and clubbed 64 home runs and established a school record for fielding percentage (.979). So the evidence of excellence was overwhelming. Yes, Georgia was upset by Duke in the regional and should’ve advanced. But baseball is kind of fluky like that sometimes. Just ask Ole Miss, Florida State and Stanford — national seeds that also were bounced from their own regionals.

As for next year, who knows? The MLB draft is still ongoing and you just never know how that is going to affect the roster. But the Bulldogs appear to have a very strong nucleus to build around. They lose five seniors, including star slugger Keegan McGovern and SEC starter Chase Adkins. But, as it is now, Georgia also brings back seven starters from the 2018 batting order.

And there already has been some good news on the draft front. Cole Wilcox, a 6-5, 220-pound right-handed pitcher with a No. 19 national prospect rating, is saying no to the pros, at least for now. He could still be drafted in the late rounds and probably will be, so a team possibly could have a chance to meet his $3 million asking price. But the inside word is he intends to honor his letter of intent to play for Georgia, which obviously would be a big deal for the Dogs. Meanwhile, junior left-hander Kevin Smith was drafted in the seventh round by the Mets, and juniors Michael Curry and Adam Sasser could still get the call. The thinking, however, is that at least the latter two will be back. Based on that real-time snapshot, I’d say Georgia will be picked considerably higher than fifth in the East next year.

Things are looking good for the UGA softball program as well. Coach Lu Harris-Champer’s team exceeded expectations last season. The Bulldogs were picked ninth in the treacherous SEC, yet finished second, earned a national seed and advanced to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. They were disappointed to be eliminated in just two games but, again, all bets are off in that format. And considering UGA lost its ace pitcher, Brittany Gray, two-thirds of the way through, that was an incredible accomplishment.

Next year looks promising, too. Georgia loses only three players: Gray, along with Cortni Emmanuel and Kendall Burton, the starting left- and right-fielders, respectively. Every other starter is back, including primary pitcher Mary Wilson Avants and five other pitchers. The Bulldogs signed five position players as well, all of them highly rated. At the very least, Georgia’s streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances — currently at 17 — should continue.

Thanks again for sending in your question.

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