LORAN SMITH: UGA hopes to use series win vs. S. Carolina as turning point

Lee County grad Daniel Nichols helped the Bulldogs beat South Carolina

Loran Smith

Loran Smith

Turning points are easily identified when you look back. You can’t define a turning point as developments take place, which is why Georgia baseball’s series win against South Carolina does not signal that the Bulldogs are going to compete for a championship anytime soon.

However, beating the seventh-ranked Gamecocks upped the Bulldog’s confidence considerably. Get in the postseason and anything can happen. While this team is not an underachieving lot, they have experienced disappointing shortfalls. Nonetheless, they have in Scott Stricklin a coach who believes that there is still time for his Dawgs to become a good team — even with eight games left on the schedule. Seldom has a coach who has worn the Red and Black accentuated the positive more than this Ohio native who is finally getting a sun tan.

Last Sunday was the warmest day of the spring. A sold out crowd — the third in a row — was given an electric dose of adrenalin when former Lee County star Daniel Nichols powered a grand slam in the third inning which, as it turned out, was all that was needed to defeat Carolina, 5-3. As Nichols’ blast cleared the fence, there were immediate flashbacks to the many times when the Bulldogs have had the bases loaded this year and runners were left on base, a stat which needs to be positive.

If you recall, Stricklin came to town espousing the view that to bring about consistency, his teams would hit and run and take the extra base. Stealing bases would be a high priority. The long ball would be appreciated but not expected. Nichols’ long ball Sunday was the best tonic in a while. For a tight SEC series, in perfect weather, nothing could do more for the spirits than a grand slam.

What I liked about the Sunday series clincher, is that with three outs to go, the Gamecocks, who did not go quietly, used a pair of doubles in the ninth inning to narrow the margin by a run. The Bulldog pitching stiffened and sent most fans home with a smile on their face. Some, like the kids, moved down to the field and took turns running the bases.

This is part of the fan friendly outreach that will bode well for Stricklin with the passing of time. He wants fans to experience a winning and contending program, but whenever you show up at Foley Field, he wants you to enjoy yourself. One of those kids who took the opportunity to run the bases will grow up to run the bases in a Bulldog uniform one day.

My favorite scene postgame was of a little boy who looked to be about 4 years old. He stood near home plate until it was his turn to run the bases. He took off, legs pumping with the greatest of determination, pounding his way to first, deftly stepping on the bag, then on to second and third and breathlessly touching home plate as if he had just hit an inside the park home run. He was wearing flip-flops.

Eager young girls took a turn at running the bases. Proud fathers stood behind first base with their cameras, recording the moment — cell phone moments having replaced the Kodak moment. Over in the first base dugout, the Georgia players, before taking their showers and relishing their feel-good weekend, were lined up with their sharpies to sign the posters which fans of all ages were placing before them for autographs. The line, initially, stretched from first base into right field for 75 to 100 yards. It was a day to remember.

This fan outreach is important to the Bulldogs’ baseball boss. Stricklin has also reached out to the baseball lettermen. He appreciates the past and sends out a weekly game report, even when the news is not so good, like the last couple of weeks after being swept by two very fine SEC teams, Vandy and Florida.

In two weeks, there will be that last home stand with Kentucky. Maybe there will be a postseason opportunity. In June, whether or not this past weekend was a turning point, the construction crews will move in to start the Foley Field expansion. There is no doubt — seeing a few cranes in the sky at Foley will definitely be a turning point.