Diamond Dawgs Are Hot

Diamond Dawgs Are Hot

Early success in SEC play offers valuable insight as to why this year's squad has Omaha in their crosshairs.

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Spring is in the air in the classic city. As temperatures rise and trees bloom, college baseball is starting to get interesting across the country-- especially if your team is 5-1 and sitting high & mighty atop the SEC East.

The record looks good... really good. At 21-3, we are tied for the second fewest losses of any team in the country. This can be deceiving though, as everyone knows most teams, particularly in the SEC, face competition of generally inferior caliber prior to conference play-- 5 of the top 10 teams in the country currently come from the SEC, if that tells you anything. With that being said, the Dawgs are 5-1 in the conference, those six games being played against two of the NCAA's perennial powerhouses in South Carolina and LSU. We've hit that mark in the SEC just one other time in the last sixteen years, which has raised questions considering the state of Georgia is consistently a breeding ground for some of the nation's top young talent. Coach Stricklin has done a much better job of keeping some of these bright young athletes in state as of late, and it's paying dividends for the Dawgs.

Sure, the records are promising, but baseball isn't played on paper. If you look beyond the numbers in bold print, you'll find a wealth of indication that this year's team is special, which is something the University of Georgia has desperately missed out of their Diamond Dawgs in recent history.

One big reason Georgia's been not only good but consistent is because of the leadership upperclassmen have exhibited throughout the season. Many of these guys made large contributions in previous seasons as underclassmen-- Tucker Maxwell, Cam Shepherd, & Aaron Schunk, to name a few-- and are now embracing their newfound leadership roles, as the aforementioned trio are hitting .333, .264, and .313 on the season, respectively. John Cable, a graduate transfer student, has come up big as well, with two grand slams on the season (and it isn't even halfway over!). Big-time players have to do big-time things if you want to compete in the SEC, and our guys are doing just that.

As of now, UGA's team batting average total is only .008 higher than last year's. This is a good thing, but certainly not representative of just how much better of an offensive team we are in 2019-- our slugging percentage is the big indicator there. Last year, we slugged at a .425 clip, while this year we've jumped up to .458. Not only are we hitting more bombs, but with runners on base too, thus putting more runs on the board at a time. If we keep knocking in runs at this pace, we'll have nearly 61 more RBIs than last season. Our guys are coming up clutch, manifesting in not only important wins but exciting wins. It's been a while since Foley Field has seen as electric a crowd as last weekend's LSU series. People are excited about this team, and for good reason.


Junior Aaron Schunk rounds third following a teammate's home runPhoto by Kathryn Skeean

While this year's offense is certainly fun to watch, everyone knows defense wins championships (or in our case, defense and pitching). Our fielding percentage is .003 higher than last year's, but on the mound is where we've really taken strides this season. Our team ERA is a whopping 1.43 lower than it was last season, and we're on pace to walk 28 fewer batters than the 2018 squad-- these are HUGE steps in the development of a World Series caliber program. While these are important numbers across the board, a closer look at our weekend starters proves even more promising.

Thus far, our Friday, Saturday, and Sunday starters, Emerson Hancock, C.J. Smith, and Tony Locey, have an impressive average ERA of 1.61, as opposed to 4.63 from last season's weekend rotation. In addition, none of last year's conference starters posted a WHIP below 1-- this year, none of them are above 1. These are the types of improvements that will make a good team a great team... the type of improvements that could make a regional team a contender in Omaha.


Lefty CJ Smith throws a pitch against LSUPhoto by Maya Giro


The Dawgs are producing with the bats when it matters most, and our arms have cleaned it up a lot between last year and now. But, aside from these two major areas of focus, there's one less frequently discussed aspect of the game where UGA's team has really shined this season, and its depth. It's one thing to have a really good starting nine-- a lot of teams have nine really good players. What separates those teams from their superiors is often a matter of depth, and this weekend ours won us a critical conference series.

Mason Meadows, our starting catcher, was pulled early in Sunday's rubber match against LSU after he fouled a ball off of his face, sustaining facial fractures. Austin Biggar stepped up to fill the role and delivered in a crucial moment later in the game. LSU put four on the board in the top of the eighth, bringing them within a run of the Dawgs. Going into the bottom of the eighth, LSU had the momentum, but this didn't hold up for long. Apparently, it only took Biggar a couple of ABs to get acclimated, because in his third at bat he launched a two-run opposite field bomb, giving the Dawgs some much-needed insurance late in the game. Nobody wants to see a player get hurt, but it really says something about a team when the next guy in line is ready to fill the role and does so with flying colors.


Austin Biggar getting some love from his third base coach after hitting a clutch home run in the ninthPhoto by Kathryn Skeean


Mason Meadows isn't the only big injury the Dawgs have seen this season--Tucker Bradley was supposed to start in left field, as he was an integral part of our success in 2018 and expected to be a major contributor and leader on this year's squad. Unfortunately, in only the second game of UGA's season against Dayton, he sustained a season-ending shoulder injury. It looked like bad news for the Dawgs, but true freshman Randon Jernigan took over Bradley's spot and has been doing so quite nicely. Hitting .259, he's holding his own at the plate, especially considering that he's new to the league. More impressive than that, though, is what he's done with the leather.

Sunday afternoon, the freshman made a SportsCenter top 10 play (came in at number 2, to be exact) to take the life out of a rallying LSU team. The momentum had gone back and forth all game, neither team seeming to lose any fervor. 9-6 In the top of the ninth wasn't all that comfortable of a lead considering the resilience LSU had exhibited, especially when the Tigers began the inning with a scorched single to right field. The next batter launched one to deep left, but not quite deep enough. Off the bat, it sounded like a no-doubter, but we had a guy there. The freshman Jernigan leapt up from the warning track, stretching out and robbing LSU of a two-run homer which would've brought them within a run, absolutely igniting the crowd of 3,042 who filled Foley Field that day. Knowing that if a starter goes down you've got another one who's going to come in and make plays like that is hugely reassuring to a coaching staff, team, school, and city.


Freshman Randon Jernigan brings a would-be home run back into the parkPhoto by Kathryn Skeean


The Dawgs take on a struggling Kentucky team this weekend and look to continue their conference success by doing exactly the things they've been doing-- hitting for power when it counts, keeping runs against to a minimum, throwing strikes, and picking their teammates up when the unexpected occurs. If they keep this up, there's no reason the University of Georgia's 2019 baseball team can't make a run and be a blast to watch while doing so.

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To The Coach Who Took Away My Confidence

You had me playing in fear.
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"The road to athletic greatness is not marked by perfection, but the ability to constantly overcome adversity and failure."

As a coach, you have a wide variety of players. You have your slow players, your fast players. You have the ones that are good at defense. You have the ones that are good at offense. You have the ones who would choose to drive and dish and you have the ones that would rather shoot the three. You have the people who set up the plays and you have the people who finish them. You are in charge of getting these types of players to work together and get the job done.

Sure, a coach can put together a pretty set of plays. A coach can scream their head off in a game and try and get their players motivated. A coach can make you run for punishment, or they can make you run to get more in shape. The most important role of a coach, however, is to make the players on their team better. To hopefully help them to reach their fullest potential. Players do make mistakes, but it is from those mistakes that you learn and grow.

To the coach the destroyed my confidence,

You wanted to win, and there was nothing wrong with that. I saw it in your eyes if I made a mistake, you were not too happy, which is normal for a coach. Turnovers happen. Players miss shots. Sometimes the girl you are defending gets past you. Sometimes your serve is not in bounds. Sometimes someone beats you in a race. Sometimes things happen. Players make mistakes. It is when you have players scared to move that more mistakes happen.

I came on to your team very confident in the way that I played the game. Confident, but not cocky. I knew my role on the team and I knew that there were things that I could improve on, but overall, I was an asset that could've been made into an extremely great player.

You paid attention to the weaknesses that I had as a player, and you let me know about them every time I stepped onto the court. You wanted to turn me into a player I was not. I am fast, so let me fly. You didn't want that. You wanted me to be slow. I knew my role wasn't to drain threes. My role on the team was to get steals. My role was to draw the defense and pass. You got mad when I drove instead of shot. You wanted me to walk instead of run. You wanted me to become a player that I simply wasn't. You took away my strengths and got mad at me when I wasn't always successful with my weaknesses.

You did a lot more than just take away my strengths and force me to focus on my weaknesses. You took away my love for the game. You took away the freedom of just playing and being confident. I went from being a player that would take risks. I went from being a player that was not afraid to fail. Suddenly, I turned into a player that questioned every single move that I made. I questioned everything that I did. Every practice and game was a battle between my heart and my head. My heart would tell me to go to for it. My heart before every game would tell me to just not listen and be the player that I used to be. Something in my head stopped me every time. I started wondering, "What if I mess up?" and that's when my confidence completely disappeared.

Because of you, I was afraid to fail.

You took away my freedom of playing a game that I once loved. You took away the relaxation of going out and playing hard. Instead, I played in fear. You took away me looking forward to go to my games. I was now scared of messing up. I was sad because I knew that I was not playing to my fullest potential. I felt as if I was going backward and instead of trying to help me, you seemed to just drag me down. I'd walk up to shoot, thinking in my head, "What happens if I miss?" I would have an open lane and know that you'd yell at me if I took it, so I just wouldn't do it.

SEE ALSO: The Coach That Killed My Passion

The fight to get my confidence back was a tough one. It was something I wish I never would've had to do. Instead of becoming the best player that I could've been, I now had to fight to become the player that I used to be. You took away my freedom of playing a game that I loved. You took away my good memories in a basketball uniform, which is something I can never get back. You can be the greatest athlete in the world, but without confidence, you won't go very far.

Cover Image Credit: Christina Silies

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Andy Ruiz Jr. May Not Look Like The Typical Boxer, But It Doesn't Make His Victory Any Less Deserved

Andy Ruiz Jr. just proved that dreams can come true.

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On June 1, boxing fans witnessed something special as Andy 'Destroyer' Ruiz Jr. defeated Anthony Joshua via TKO after going seven rounds in the ring at Madison Square Garden in New York City to become the first ever Mexican-American heavyweight champion of the world. Ruiz Jr. (33-1) was a heavy underdog (+1100) heading into the match-up with Joshua (22-1) but ultimately flipped the script to hand the British fighter his first professional loss ever. Surely the fight will go down as one of the greatest moments in sports history.

Some members of the media and fans have been quick to label the fight as a 'fluke' and 'rigged' which in the end is no surprise to me. That always happens in the sports world. Many did not believe we would get this result yet failed to remember the one rule of sports -- expect the unexpected. Over the past week, I've been coming to the defense of Ruiz Jr. in the wake of others choosing to call him a joke.

I was shocked and surprised to hear two of my favorite sports analysts, Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe, make fun of Ruiz Jr. and frame him as just a guy that looked like 'Butterbean.' When I viewed their tweets on social media it honestly made me upset. Sure, Ruiz Jr. may not have fit the mold of what a professional boxer should look like, but they simply should not have just judged a book by its cover.

Personally, I thought it was disrespectful for Smith and Sharpe to throw shade at Ruiz Jr. in the way they did. I felt like they should have done a better job of acknowledging the winner considering the result of the match. Yet choosing to bash someone because of their physical composition appeared like a low blow. The very foundation of sports allows people of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, and backgrounds to compete -- that's why most people follow them in the first place.

Smith was open behind his reasoning for his tweets in which I'd like to shed some light on. Smith was upset about how boxing time after time contains elements of corruption with fans having to wait years until promoters schedule big fights. He along with other followers of the sport were looking forward to the highly anticipated yet potential future match-up between Joshua and fellow heavyweight Deontay Wilder. Smith believes that by Ruiz Jr. beating Joshua it essentially diminished the chances of that fight ever happening with the same amount of buildup, but that still doesn't provide any excuse for mocking the new heavyweight champ.

Ruiz Jr. was there for a reason and ultimately seized the opportunity that was right in front of him -- that's not his fault for getting the job done. Just because someone doesn't look like the part doesn't mean they don't possess the same qualities and characteristics as their counterparts. The following pair of videos display the amount of talent Ruiz Jr. does have in the ring. Even fellow boxer Canelo Alvarez and former UFC lightweight/featherweight champion Conor McGregor acknowledge that and have come out to say something on their behalf.

Unfortunately, I don't expect much to change because most will stand their ground and continue to behave the same way. All I'm saying is I did not enjoy some of the top figures within sports media stereotyping Ruiz Jr. based on his looks. I would think that we would be better than that and recognize that anyone can accomplish something great in this world. It all just starts with a simple dream.

I understand and respect other people's takes on this subject, maybe I'm looking into things deeper than what they are, but it struck a chord with me and I felt the need to say something about it.

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