For the first time perhaps since David Perno roamed the dugout at the head coach of the Georgia baseball program, the Diamond Dawgs are in the rarified air of seeking to meet high expectations.
Seasons like last year, in which Georgia won 39 games and earned a national seed will do that. Now, the bigger challenge arrives. It was one thing for Scott Stricklin’s club to emerge to be one of the SEC’s upper echelon teams last year. Now, the task is to make a year ago the expectation, if not a building block to trips to Omaha being the norm.
Preseason-rankings wise, the Dawgs are tapped to put up a similar level of success as seen a year ago, being ranked 13th by USA Today and 15th by Baseball America.
The road starts this weekend in Athens with Dayton coming to town. Friday’s first pitch is set for 3 pm with Emerson Hancock being tapped as the opening-day starter with Will Proctor and Tony Locey set to start the other two contests. Aaron Schunk, who doubles as Georgia’s closer as well as starting at third base, figures to see relief work one way or the other as well.
Pitching and defense should be a trademark of a team that lost just one infield from last year’s bunch that posted a .979 fielding percentage, the best in school history. Along with Schunk, the middle of the infield returns with Cam Shepherd at shortstop and LJ Talley at second, while Patrick Sullivan is the newcomer at first base. Mason Meadows, who along with Talley was a preseason All-SEC selection will run the controls at catcher.
If there’s a spot with holes to fill, it’s the outfield with power hitters Keegan McGovern and Tucker Bradley having finished their Georgia careers. A familiar face will be in left field with Tucker Bradley moving from right field over to left with CJ Smith and Tucker Maxwell projected to split time in center. In right, Riley King is a newcomer to watch after a monster season during the fall intrasquad scrimmages. Plus, he should get bonus points for playing for one of the greatest names in sports history last summer - the Macon Bacon of the Coastal Plain League.
Georgia’s pitching and defense should make it out to be solid contender. If new faces and get their bats going, however, this team could get even better.