Getting injured players back in lineup puts ‘pep in our step,’ Stricklin says after win over Tech
It’s crazy what a year can do.
Take, for example, Georgia’s baseball team. This time last season, fans and media alike were just starting to get a glimpse of the talent within that squad. It was April 9, 2018, the Bulldogs had just dropped a weekend series at Vanderbilt and faced Clemson the upcoming Tuesday.
The Bulldogs were not a bad team, by any means, at that point in the season. A few weeks earlier, Georgia swept a home series against South Carolina and took series against both Texas A&M and Alabama. But this was still early April, the season was still fairly young and nobody really knew if that team could sustain its momentum (it did).
Fast forward one year.
Second-ranked Georgia is 28-6 after handling No. 22 Georgia Tech 12-2 Tuesday night. It was a win that felt all too routine for the voted-second-best team in the country, and there’s little indication that this team will slow down any time soon.
The Bulldogs are rolling, from Sharpied-in starters to fringe players, and the team’s depth is flexing its muscle as Georgia enters the heart of conference play.
“We’ve had a lot of guys get banged up,” said Patrick Sullivan, who hit a home run in his first game back from a concussion Tuesday. “The people that stepped up have done an awesome job. I think it just shows that we’ve got a lot of good players, and that’s valuable.”
The Bulldogs, as of April 9, have swept South Carolina (again), taken two of three against traditional powerhouse LSU and won a weekend series against a top-10-ranked Vanderbilt team.
Tony Locey is the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week after throwing a one-hitter in Game 3 of that Vanderbilt series. And that’s not to mention the Bulldogs’ series win over Kentucky and their midweek win over Clemson sandwiched in-between all of those.
The crowds didn’t show up in droves until late last season, when that team’s talent and potential (the Bulldogs came within a win of an NCAA Super Regional bid) became clear.
There were more than 3,000 fans in attendance Tuesday night. That’s a strong number for a weekend series — say, a Saturday afternoon game. On a weeknight, even against an in-state rival? That’s practically unheard of.
That’s where things are with this Bulldogs team. The pitching staff somehow got better, despite losing two starters from 2018. Georgia’s bats are hitting consistently, despite losing their two best hitters from a season ago.
It all showed on Tuesday night.
Each Bulldogs starter recorded a hit. Tim Elliott struck out six and gave up two runs in seven innings of work, which brought his ERA to a measly 1.48. The Bulldogs scored five runs in the first three innings and seven runs across the fifth, sixth and seventh, meaning most of those 3,000 spectators were back at home by the time Christian Ryder recorded the final out of the night.
“We’ve got guys (on our bench), all these guys are playing and they’ve got at-bats, they’ve got experience in big-game situations,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Stricklin, “and that makes you a better player. Now, all of the sudden, our bench is better. Our subs are better.”
The 2018 Bulldogs lost their next two SEC series, then managed to take two of three from Tennessee and sweep Missouri. The 2019 Bulldogs face the Volunteers in Knoxville starting Thursday, then face No. 17 Clemson on April 16.
The Bulldogs’ series against Mississippi State, should both teams take care of business beforehand, will likely serve as a top-five matchup. Then Florida comes to town the next weekend.
So, it certainly does not get easier for Georgia. But if Tuesday night is any indicator, that’s not much of a problem.
“We’re going to be the more aggressive team,” Stricklin said. “I don’t care what happens on the final score, but we’re going to going to be more aggressive, with everything we do. And we did that tonight.”