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Diamond Dogs: Big bats make a return
Two veteran Georgia Bulldogs are chomping at the bits to get back on the diamond
Georgia senior Cole Tate [No. 43](Photo from http://www.GeorgiaDogs.com)
Athens, GA—The Georgia Bulldogs return to the diamond this weekend to take on Evansville in the 2021 season opener in a four-game series, which will start on Friday at 2 p.m. at Foley Field.
Last season, the Bulldogs finished with a 14-4 and were ranked as high as No. 2 in the country (USA TODAY Sports Top 25) before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the remainder of the schedule. This season, UGA comes into the season ranked No. 12 after losing several key components to the pitching staff. Although, the Bulldogs return several key offensive contributors from last season.
One of the biggest pieces coming back from last season is outfielder Ben Anderson, who led the team in batting average. Anderson posted a .414 batting average (24-for-58), had a .544 on-base percentage, and scored 24 runs, with six doubles and 15 walks. The redshirt junior also added 13 RBIs and five stolen bases. Anderson usually was the lead-off hitter last season.
Another positive for head coach Scott Stricklin is the return of third basemen Garrett Blaylock.
The Asheville, North Carolina native said he’s ready to be back on the field with his teammates.
"There’s a lot of anticipation after the way last year ended the way it did,” he said. “It was a sour taste and then a lot of guys didn’t get to play summer baseball. We’re excited to get it going. We’re looking forward to it."
Blaylock should be looked at as Georgia’s biggest threat to go yard. Last season, he only had a .187 batting average in 18 games, but he finished second on the team with four homers in 61 at-bats. Nonetheless, of those 61 plate appearances, he had a team-high 19 strikeouts.
Blaylock said he’s had conversations with coach Stricklin about adjusting his approach.
“That was one thing in my game I kind of identified last year. I was taking too many pitches,” he said. “We were having conversations about swinging early in counts and hunting pitches that I could do damage with, more than if it wasn’t really what I was looking for.”
Blaylock said he’s been polishing his craft in the offseason.
“That’s what I worked on and worked on a lot over break, and what I’ve been trying to implement in preseason scrimmages and stuff,” he said. “I feel like it’s been working well. I've been hitting early, hitting the ball hard. That's really all you can do and control. The hits will come, and the sums will, too. But as far as hitting early in the count, that's what I've been doing, and I feel like it’s been working pretty well.”
Georgia’s got some depth when it comes to the offense, and twins Cole and Connor Tate add to the talent level down the depth chart. Cole finished the 2020 campaign with a .339 batting average while Connor batted .243. Both are plug-n’-go type players and are very versatile. More so than others, the coaching staff will use either brother in specific situations. One may be used for a hit-and-run scenario while the other will be brought in as a pinch-runner.
Stricklin said that the pair, along with several others, are Georgia’s power hitters in the lineup.
“I think we’ve got six or seven of those guys in the lineup when you look at Blaylock, Cole Tate, Connor Tate, Corey Collins, Parks Harber, Fernando Gonzalez,” he said. “All of those guys can hit for power. We might not have someone who hits 20, but we’ve got a bunch of guys who could hit eight-to-one, and that’s kind of what we’ve been the last few years. But Riley King is going to hit in that four-hole.”
As a redshirt senior, King will be looked at as one of the leaders on the team. Since arriving on campus, King has appeared in 89 games with 79 starts and has a .275 average with nine doubles, one triple, eight home runs and 55 RBIs. The Collins Hill High School product is the face of the program this year. Last season, he was selected as one of the team captains alongside Emerson Hancock and Cam Shepherd.
Stricklin claims that’s its King’s ability to stay humble in the batter’s box is what separates him from the rest.
“He’s the most consistent guy,” he said. “He barrels it up. He might not hit 15 home runs, but he hit eight two years ago. So he can easily be a 10-home run guy.”