The letdown certainly settled over Foley Field on Monday afternoon when it was revealed that a win in the SEC Tournament against another team on the bubble was not enough, preventing the Diamond Dawgs from a third NCAA berth in a row.
Georgia appeared confident after last week’s LSU win that it had done enough, but in the end, it was not enough to outweigh the factors that had put the Diamond Dawgs in the position of needing a strong conference tournament showing to even get in.
Georgia did not help its case after the LSU win, thanks to a listless loss to top seed Arkansas, 11-2 and 4-0 to Ole Miss. But in truth, Georgia beat its own hopes up before even getting to Hoover. The Diamond Dawgs lost seven of ten to close the regular season, including dropping two of three games in weekend series to Ole Miss, Florida, and Arkansas. As tough as it may be to swallow, a 14-inning loss to The Enemy may have cost Georgia a postseason berth, not to mention a 2-0 loss to Ole Miss followed by an 8-5 extra-inning defeat a day later. Simply put, those are games that teams hoping to get in have to win, and Georgia did not do that, putting itself at the mercy of the selection committee that, like most others, does whatever its impulses tell it to while showing no rhyme or reason.
Georgia’s coaching staff is to be commended for squeezing blood from a turnip with this team, rushing more freshmen than planned to pitch earlier than planned due to four starting pitchers ending the season injured with leading hitters also being banged up by year’s end.
On the other hand, when players arrive in Athens from a fertile recruiting ground, the ‘just a freshman’ line loses a lot of weight.
So where does this program go from here?
Contrary to how easy it may be to have a knee-jerk reaction, this program is one on very firm ground. If not for a global pandemic, Georgia would have been coming into this year coming off three national seeds in a row. That’s the standard of which this program should strive for, but you’ll have down cycles too. Georgia had the rotten luck of a pitching staff of two first-round caliber pitchers last year not getting to have another shot at making it to Omaha. Georgia’s young hurlers were up and down this year. As a staff, Georgia was fifth in opposing batting average and sixth in strikeouts. Those midpack numbers would have ideally been enough to help squeeze out a few more wins, except for one small problem. That Georgia allowed the second-most walks in the SEC while also throwing the second-most wild pitches.
The cliff’s notes of this program the past few years has been this. That it had an Omaha-caliber pitching staff with a batting order that needed to step up. With not quite as dominant pitchers this year, Georgia’s offense was on a similar plane, tenth in the conference in batting average and 12th among SEC teams in runs driven in.
Georgia is not in dire straits. But how well its pitching staff builds on this year and its position players take a step forward will determine if the recent run before this year ends up being the rule or aberration under the Scott Stricklin regime.
Until next spring at Foley Field....