Georgia shortstop Cam Shepherd (Aaron Fitt)


Fall Report: Georgia

Fall Report

ATHENS, Ga. — Scott Stricklin made the decision when he took the Georgia head coaching job that he was going to build his program with high school players. So when the Bulldogs lost a raft of veterans after the 2016 season, they did not take the junior-college stopgap route. They took their lumps with a young team, starting six freshmen on opening day. As Stricklin put it, they were hit in the mouth early on, and it took a long time to recover — but the game started to slow down for them late, and they finished with three straight series wins against Kentucky, Mississippi State and South Carolina.

“We knew that class was really talented, and I think we saw down the stretch how good they were, but it took some time for them to get their legs under them,” Stricklin said. “We had so many freshmen that played last year, got a lot of at-bats, a lot of innings, but those guys are now sophomores, and we’ve seen a little bit of a jump from them. We’ve got another talented freshman class, it’s really good, and we’re going to see a lot of guys contribute from there. But the nice thing about it is those freshmen don’t have to play this year. They’re going to, but last year our freshmen had to play.”

Georgia lost just one player of note off last year’s team — lefthander Andrew Gist. The rest of the team is back, on the mound and in the lineup — and another quality group of newcomers should make this a deep roster with plenty of talent and competition for jobs.

It’s taken longer than anyone thought for Stricklin to get this program rolling — the Bulldogs have yet to post a winning overall record or top 11 conference wins in any of his first four seasons — but the future is now. This looks like the club that could get Georgia over the hump and back into regionals for the first time since 2011.

“I like them a lot. It’s a really good group, but our main goal is to make sure we get better every day, so this is what we’ve been doing every single day in practice: competing,” Stricklin said after an Oct. 27 intrasquad scrimmage that ended with a walk-off single and a rowdy celebration. “We turn the scoreboard on, we split the game in half so it’s not a seven-inning game, it’s a four- and a three-inning game. Let’s be competitive so we get in those situations where it’s the ninth inning and we gotta lay bunts down. So we’ve made them compete, the losing team’s got to pick up a bunch of stuff, they don’t like losing. We’ve tried to build mental toughness, and I like what I’ve seen so far.”

Let’s break down this intriguing Georgia roster.

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