Scott Stricklin’s first season as head baseball coach at UGA didn’t start off as planned.
After a tumultuous offseason which saw a coaching and culture change for the Bulldogs, Stricklin saw his team wheeze to a 2-6 start in the season’s first two weeks, with losses to in-state foes Georgia Southern, Kennesaw State and Georgia State mocking the state’s biggest institution.
However, since the shaky start, the Bulldogs have reeled off a nine-game winning streak, over which the team has scored 81 runs while allowing just 34.
Stricklin said he attributes this sudden change in success to the team capitalizing on mistakes made by opponents and creating opportunities to score by getting on base, something the team had had trouble with in the early season.
“We’re starting to feel better about ourselves,” Stricklin said. “I think that’s important. I think we can be a really good team and we need to remain consistent and humble and do all the things that we need to do to become a good team.”
One of the marked consistencies that the team has capitalized on over the win streak has been the creation of mistakes. While in the season’s early going it was Georgia that was making mistakes and allowing big innings, the Bulldogs have begun to force errors with sharply-hit balls and precise base-running, generating offense as a result.
For example, in a recent game played at home against Buffalo, the Bulldogs scored five runs in the fifth inning off of just two hits, creating most of the damage off of three Buffalo errors. That being said, the errors were just as likely coerced by Georgia’s play as they were mistakes by the Bulls.
“You put the ball in play and you’ve got guys who are athletic and can run and play hard, yeah things are going to happen and that’s I think what happened in that inning,” Stricklin said. “We put the ball in tough spots and we made them make tough plays. We were fortunate to get a couple of breaks and a couple of bounces there, but certainly we did.”
The Bulldogs have not subsisted on mistakes alone though. The top of the Bulldogs’ lineup, shortstop Nelson Ward, left fielder Conor Welton and right fielder and third baseman Hunter Cole have spurned the team’s offensive success. While Ward and Cole are the only two Bulldogs to have reached base safely in each of the team’s 17 games, Welton has been on a torrid streak as of late, batting 17-for-36 over the nine-game win streak.
In the team’s most recent contest, Tuesday’s 26-7 drubbing over Western Kentucky, the trio batted 9-for-17, scoring 10 runs and driving in three.
All being said, the players and coaches alike understand that despite the team’s talent, the win streak may be as indicative of the team’s future success as the early-season struggles were. Relief pitcher Jared Cheek put it best.
“The great thing about baseball is that any team can be beaten on any given day,” Cheek said. “You can’t really take anybody for granted. You can’t go light on anybody.”