ATHENS -- Scott Stricklin could have shrugged it off as just the first series of a long season and chalked up the eye-popping final score to one bad inning. Instead, Georgia’s first-year baseball head coach went the other way.
“Disappointing is probably an understatement, to have that score on Sunday in a series-clinching game,” Stricklin said.
That ugly final score: Georgia Southern 18, Georgia 4.
It was not the ideal start to Stricklin’s coaching tenure at Georgia, losing two out of three at home to a Southern Conference team that had a losing record last year. And it was worse to lose the two games by 14 and six runs.
“I expected to win this series. I hoped to sweep this series,” Stricklin said. “I think we’ve got a good team, I really do. The score doesn’t reflect that. But the important thing to me is we’re gonna get better as we go along. It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. And that’s what we’ve told our kids.”
By no means does this portend failure for Stricklin, hired to resuscitate a program that missed the NCAA tournament three of the past four years.
The last Georgia baseball coach to start his tenure 1-2 was Steve Webber in 1981, and he ended up staying 16 years and winning a national championship in 1990.
“Sure, everybody’s wanting to get going at the start of the season. But no one’s putting undue pressure on themselves or anything,” Georgia senior pitcher Dylan Cole said. “We just came out and wanted to play and made a few mistakes that cost us big time.”
The game was essentially over in the top of the third, when Georgia Southern put up 11 runs. Georgia starter Patrick Boling was chased, just as starter Sean McLaughlin was chased in the third inning in Friday’s 9-3 loss.
It was a bad sign for a team that badly needs dependable starters to emerge.
“By the time we get into the SEC, we should have our rotation set,” Stricklin said. “Right now we’re trying to find out who our guys we can go to, who we can trust. ... The guys who get outs, the guys who put zeroes on the board are the ones who are going to continue to get opportunities.”
The good news for Stricklin was the excitement he saw in the stands. There was a near-sellout crowd at Foley Field. By the time the school song played before the bottom of the ninth, meant to fire up the faithful, most had left.
“When you get beat on your home field in front of your home crowd no one likes that,” Stricklin said. “I want our players to be disappointed about it, but I told them I didn’t want them to hang their head, because we’re not gonna stop working with them. We still believe in them. We want them to believe in themselves. It’s a long way from being over. It’s a long year.”
Georgia’s next game is Wednesday against Kennesaw State. Then comes a weekend series at Florida State.
When Stricklin met with the team after Sunday’s loss, his message to the team was clear.
“It’s over,” according to junior infielder Nelson Ward.
He meant the series, not the season.
“That’s not the way you want to start the season,” Ward said. “But it’s over.”