Behind enemy bylines with The Red and Black

McClain Baxley

The Georgia Southern baseball team returns to J.I. Clements this weekend looking for their first series win of the year as No. 9 Georgia visits for three games. Ahead of the series between in-state foes, Janey Murray, an assistant sports editor for The Red and Black, gave her thoughts on the annual series.

How did the Bulldogs go from having a plethora of runs against UMASS-Lowell to being shutout in their loss to LIU-Brooklyn?

There was certainly a stark contrast between those two games as far as Georgia’s offense goes. To begin with, the wind was blowing straight out against UMass Lowell on Sunday, which was certainly a factor in the 25 runs they put up. But really, against LIU Brooklyn, it seemed like there was just a lack of focus from the hitters. Head coach Scott Stricklin seemed to think after the game that a lot of hitters just went in assuming they were going to win, and obviously that mindset didn’t work out well for them. They were swinging at tons of changeups in the dirt, and they really didn’t adjust their approaches at all throughout the game. On top of that, their defense, which is usually one of their biggest strengths, faltered, as they made as many errors as they did hits (2). Overall, I think that loss was more of a fluke than anything else, and they appeared to show that by bouncing back with an 11-1 win over a decent Kennesaw State team.

What can fans expect from UGA’s starting pitching?

Georgia’s starting rotation has undoubtedly been its biggest strength so far this season. Emerson Hancock has been a true ace as the Friday night starter. He throws mid to upper 90s and has yet to give up a run this season. He went 6 2/3 without allowing a hit in his first start and then followed that up by striking out 10 in his second start. As Stricklin has said often, he really seems to have matured from his up-and-down freshman season to become a bonified Friday night SEC starter. Tony Locey, who’ll start on Saturday, is another guy who is off to a good start after struggling early in his Georgia career. He was a highly-touted recruit who has always had aspirations of being in the starting rotation but has never stuck there consistently due to struggles with his command. He’s struck out 10 in both of his starts this season and I think the development of his offspeed pitches is what has powered him to success this season. The third spot in the rotation is going to be switched up a little bit for this weekend, Stricklin told me on Thursday. Will Proctor has been in the Saturday spot but will get a week off, while freshman Cole Wilcox will make his first start on Sunday. Wilcox is a big name who would have been a first-round MLB draft pick if he had elected to go pro. In his first two outings out of the bullpen, he didn’t seem to have any idea where the ball was going. But against Kennesaw State on Wednesday, he threw two innings and allowed just one hit while striking out two, which Stricklin told me was an encouraging sign. But with him, it could really go either way as far as what you’ll see on Sunday. He has the big league stuff to blow guys away, but it’s just a matter of getting his command down in order to have success. Still, having three guys in the weekend rotation who throw mid to upper 90s is pretty impressive, so if all these guys perform up to their potential, they’ve got a chance to be great.

How will the Bulldogs approach their first road game/series of the season?

When I was talking to Stricklin about this upcoming series, one thing that stuck out that he said about it was that they really use this series against Georgia Southern as a primer for SEC play. The Eagles are probably the best team Georgia plays until SEC play begins, and I know the team is expecting a good atmosphere in Statesboro. I think Georgia’s rotation has shown that it’s primed for this kind of challenge, but the biggest thing to look at will be the offense. Will the hitters tighten up like they did against LIU Brooklyn or relax and work at-bats up and down the lineup? My guess is that they’ll be able to settle in and have success, but this road series is certainly the biggest challenge they’ve faced yet, so the results will be telling.

What’s your prediction for how the series goes?

I expect Georgia to win the series but drop one game. If I had to pick one they’d lose, it would have to be that Sunday matchup with Wilcox on the mound. He’s so raw and while Wednesday was a good sign, his command is still very much a wild card, so I could see him giving up a few runs and the Bulldogs dropping the series finale. But I think the offense will lock in enough to put some runs on the board, and I expect Hancock and Locey’s strong starts to continue on the road in Statesboro. I say Georgia wins two games, while Georgia Southern picks up one win over the Bulldogs in the series finale.

McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Daily Managing Editor, [email protected]