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Georgia Sports News

  • ATHENS — With a name like Schunk, he has to be good. And he is. Never mind my lame play on the famous jingle of Smuckers jams and jellies — “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good” — there’s nothing silly about Georgia’s Aaron Schunk. Wait, check that. He is a little silly. A fan of the rapper Eminem, his Twitter handle is @RealSlimSchuncky. Aside from that, the third baseman/closer is one big reason the Bulldogs are having the season they are this year. You’ll learn more about this hard-throwing, base-knocking sophomore in Corey Knapp’s profile on Schunk on DawgNation.com. But, in a nutshell, he’s the modern-day rarity of a two-way player who embodies his team’s gritty, never-say-die attitude. “We’ve known we were a good team since the first game of the season when we came back from three runs down against Georgia Southern,” said Schunk, who will lead the Bulldogs into the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., as a No. 3 seed on Wednesday. “Nobody was thinking of Georgia as a national seed, but here we are.” Well, they’re not yet. But as they prepare for an early wake-up call Wednesday — a 9:30 a.m. CT first pitch at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium — the Bulldogs (37-17) are considered pretty much a lock to receive a national seed next week for the NCAA Tournament. They enter with an RPI of No. 3, which means not only will they host a regional next week, but also a Super Regional if they advance. Georgia hasn’t done that since 2008, when it last advanced to the College World Series and finished as national runner-up. That’s a long way from where the Bulldogs were last year and, well, every year since Scott Stricklin has been their coach. This will be their first NCAA tourney appearance in his five seasons at the helm of the program. What has materialized is a team that’s worth the wait, with guys such as Schunk and teammate C.J. Smith playing in the field and throwing from the mound, guys such as Keegan Bradley, Adam Sasser and Michael Curry blasting home runs, and guys such as shortstop Cam Shepherd sucking up ground balls like a Hoover vacuum. Schunk enters the SEC Tournament on a 22-game hitting streak. He’s hitting .315 on the season while sporting a 2-1 record and 2.13 ERA with 8 saves in nine opportunities as the Bulldogs closer. It’s a role that always has been envisioned for this 6-foot-2, 203-pound graduate of Atlanta’s Lovett School. “When I first came here, Coach Stricklin said he had no problem with me being a third baseman and pitching,” Schunk said. “He wanted to be careful with my arm, so I started out throwing about an inning a week in the fall. I got a save in my first attempt and that’s kind of been my role since.” When examining the transformation of Georgia baseball this season, it is pitching where you’ll find the biggest difference. The Bulldogs don’t really feature a bunch of star hurlers or even one ace, really. But what they have is group of pitchers who understand their roles, throw strikes and keep their team in games. Georgia’s team earned-run average of 3.71 is the school’s lowest in 50 years. A lot of that credit has to go to Stricklin’s new pitching coach. He brought in Sean Kenny from Michigan, where he was twice Big Ten assistant coach of the year. “Oh, big time,” Stricklin said of the difference Kenny has made. “He’s done a great job. He’s got a great bedside manner, is what I call it. He communicates well with these guys. When he’s upset, it’s a different kind of upset than me. I’m the loud guy; I’m more of a yeller. He communicates with them well, they trust him and he has taught them how they have to be able throw that secondary pitch for a strike.” Said Schunk: “He does his research and just knows a lot about the game. He makes sure we know what it is we’re trying to do. I used to just throw everything hard. He helped teach me about pitching.” But it goes a lot deeper than pitching. The Bulldogs lead the SEC with a .982 fielding percentage, are hitting .286 as a team, average 6.4 runs a game and have hit 54 home runs, the most since 2009. The left fielder McGovern (.330, 15 HR, 44 RBI) is a Golden Spikes Award candidate. It all adds together to put Georgia in an interesting spot. After scratching and clawing just to make the 12-team SEC tourney field the last four years, the Bulldogs now just want to get in and out without much stress and strain on their roster. Certainly they’d like to record the first tournament title in school history, but that’s not really the end-game this year. Georgia is eyeing Omaha and has the team to get there. “The goal is to win every time you compete,” Stricklin said. “That will be our goal this week as well. We just might not push somebody to go as long or hard as we might next week.” A different approach for the Diamond Dawgs, for sure. The post Mix of young stars, grizzled veterans winning formula for Georgia baseball appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs came within a handful of plays of a winning a national championship last season, but one national writer thinks they won’t have to wait much longer. ESPN’s Mark Schlabach wrote Tuesday that he believe Smart will be the next FBS coach to win a national title for the first time. Given how close he came back in January, that’s not exactly going out on a limb. But there are some other worthy candidates — Chip Kelly at UCLA, Willie Taggart at Florida State and Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, to name a few. Here’s what Schlabach had to say about Smart: “My money would be on Georgia’s Kirby Smart. He got the Bulldogs really close last year, before losing to Alabama 26-23 in overtime in the CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T. I think Smart is Saban’s biggest threat because he knows the Alabama program so well. He’s following the same blueprint as Saban, and Georgia is so fertile when it comes to recruiting. The Bulldogs are spending money on facilities, and Smart has everything he needs in terms of resources. “Georgia might take a small step back after losing so many players from last year, especially tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. But D’Andre Swift was fantastic as a freshman, and Elijah Holyfield looks like the real deal.” Georgia does seem to be on the cusp of being at Alabama’s level on a consistent basis. The Bulldogs dethroned Alabama from the No. 1 recruiting class in 2018 for the first time in ages, and their 2019 class is off to another great start. Winning that national title in this upcoming season may be too tall of an order — in addition to Chubb and Michel, the Bulldogs will have to replace No. 8 overall pick Roquan Smith in the middle of their defense. But in 2019 and beyond? It looks like everyone is betting on the Bulldogs. The post ESPN’s Mark Schlabach predicts Kirby Smart will be the next coach to win national title appeared first on DawgNation.
  • When the Georgia baseball team has a lead in the seventh inning of a tight game, sophomore closer Aaron Schunk meets with pitching coach Sean Kenny in the dugout. They go over a plan of attack for when Schunk will enter the game to pitch, and then he will head to the bullpen, where he needs only 10 to 15 warm-up pitches until his arm — and his mind — are ready to take the mound. Schunk’s routine doesn’t take much longer than Bulldogs fans singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch. He’s already pretty loose, given that he has been playing third base and hitting in the lineup all game. Getting the final three outs of the game is just part of what Schunk brings to the diamond for No. 13 Georgia (37-17, 18-12 SEC). He has started every game of the 2018 season at third base, and he bats in the middle of a potent Bulldogs lineup. Schunk’s versatility has become vital to Georgia’s resurgence this season. Georgia enters the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., this week as the third seed, hoping to secure a top-8 national seed in what would be the Bulldogs first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011. Schunk and the Bulldogs will begin double-elimination play at 10:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday against the winner of the Texas A&M and Vanderbilt game from Tuesday morning. After a freshman season during which Schunk only pitched once because his arm wasn’t physically ready, the sophomore from Atlanta has 8 saves, 26 strikeouts and a 2.13 ERA in 25⅓ innings as the Georgia closer, numbers that would qualify among the nation’s best if he pitched more, perhaps exclusively. But Georgia wouldn’t be maximizing Schunk’s — or its own — potential if all he did was pitch. His value is that pitching is one of the many things he does very well. “We envisioned this last year,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “I had a talk with him this fall and said, ‘We’re gonna need you to pitch for us to be as good as we can be.'” He was right. Even after a left thumb injury that cost him the final month of his freshman season and required surgery and summer rehab, and even with the added workload of pitching regularly, Schunk returned unfazed in 2018. He’s back playing steady and reliable defense at third base and brings a .315 batting average, 36 RBI, and 22-game hitting streak — the longest active streak in the SEC —  into the conference tournament. “Mentally I’ve grown up really fast,” Schunk said. “For me the biggest thing is being able to come through for my teammates in every aspect. I obviously didn’t expect to be doing so much, but I really appreciate the coaches and the guys having faith in me. And the biggest thing that I can do for them is give it my all and come through for them, and that’s what I look forward to every day.” Schunk’s development has been a team effort around Foley Field. He credits Kenny for turning him into a “thinking pitcher” who can “dissect” pitching instead of just throwing hard, and Stricklin credits Kenny and defensive coach Pete Hughes for working together to make sure Schunk does not overwork himself during infield practices in order to keep his arm fresh. They all know the unique weapon Schunk has become. “The guy that comes to mind to me is Mark Kotsay,” Stricklin said, comparing Schunk to the former Cal State Fullerton outfielder, closer, All American, Golden Spikes Award Winner and College World Series Champion and Most Outstanding Player. “It’s pretty rare to be a guy that’s a middle-of-the-order-type hitter, a plus defender and also one of the best closers in the country.” Among the numbers Schunk has produced so far in 2018, the most impressive stat has to be his strikeout-to-walk ratio as the closer. While averaging more than 1  strikeout per inning, Schunk has only walked 4 batters all season, which becomes more critical pitching in the pressure situations he enters late in games. “That’s why we like him so much in those situations because he throws strikes,” Stricklin said. “He just limits the free bases so much. He’s got quality stuff, but he throws so many strikes. … It’s comforting to know we have him back there.” For Schunk, his confidence in himself pushes him through those high-intensity moments. “When I’m on the mound, and honestly when I’m doing anything, I’m thinking that my best stuff is better than the other guy’s best stuff,” he said. “Whether that be a hitter or me going up against a pitcher, I think that I can do better than he can. And I’m not gonna let somebody get away free, and so throwing strikes is a big part of my mentality on the mound.” In the SEC Tournament and then the NCAA Tournament, Georgia can expect plenty of close games. Many coaches in both college and professional baseball love to bring their closers in earlier in the postseason, effectively shortening the game. Two of Schunk’s saves this season have lasted more than the standard single inning, and he’s ready for Stricklin to use him in any situation to help the team, whether he has to get one or six outs to end the game. For Stricklin, that approach is one he will consider game by game but with caution. He noted that if he brings in a position player to pitch, he loses the designated hitter in his lineup. For Georgia, that’s Michael Curry, the Bulldogs’ RBI leader (47). So if Stricklin brought in Schunk too early, taking the bat out of Curry’s hands would be a negative consequence. “Anything’s on the table when you get in the postseason,” he said. It’ll be hard for the Bulldogs to go wrong relying on Schunk on the mound, in the field or at the plate. His confidence is high but not in a brash way. It’s an attitude reflecting his teammates’ and coaches’ trust in him and his belief in himself, so he’s going to come through for them, plain and simple. The 27th out is always the hardest one to record in a baseball game. So, two outs, runner at third, 1-run game — does Schunk prefer to be the closer or the man in the batter’s box, trying to secure or prevent that final out? “That’s a tough question,” he says with a big smile. “Obviously I’d want to shut it down on the mound, but if I got the opportunity to do it at the plate, that’s where I’d want to do it.” There’s a chance he could do both for Georgia in Hoover this week, as well as on the Bulldogs’ entire postseason road to Omaha. The post Sophomore Aaron Schunk does it all to help lead resurgent Georgia baseball team into SEC Tournament appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Georgia football is the No. 1 topic every day on DawgNation Daily — the daily podcast for Georgia Bulldogs fans. Catch up on everything happening with UGA athletics with host Brandon Adams and the cast of DawgNation experts as they break down the latest Georgia football recruiting news and discuss UGA coach Kirby Smart’s quest to keep the Bulldogs on top of the SEC. On episode No. 710 (May 22, 2018) of the podcast, Georgia fans can hear a discussion about a possible surprise All-American candidate for UGA. Georgia football podcast: National publication suggests UGA could have surprising All-American candidate Beginning of the show: Georgia safety JR Reed could be an All-American candidate according to Athlon Sports. I’ll talk more about that subject on today’s show and explain why Reed’s emergence is helpful considering the still uncertain status of his cousin, Deangelo Gibbs. 10-minute mark: I’ll share audio from UGA coach Kirby Smart on the possible transfer decision quarterback Stetson Bennett is weighing. 15-minute mark: DawgNation recruiting insider Jeff Sentell joins the show for the Marlow’s Tavern Tell-All. Some of the topics include: Is the Deangelo Gibbs situation bad news for Georgia? How big of a deal is 5-star cornerback Andrew Booth’s family being with him in Athens this past weekend? Is UGA prioritizing 4-star defensive tackle CJ Clark? Update on 4-star defensive tackle Jaelin Humphries? Could UGA take 2 running backs in the 2019 class? 35-minute mark: I take a look at some other SEC headlines, including: Las Vegas releasing point spreads on Week 1 games, Phil Fulmer and Jeremy Pruitt possible at odds over scheduling, and LSU quarterback Myles Brennan’s dad saying that Myles does not plan on transferring. Dawg Day Q&A: Who will be the breakout star from UGA’s defense in 2018? End of show: I update the Gator Hater Coundown. For the Monday (May 21) show, click here. For the video version of the Tuesday show, click here. For older episodes of DawgNation Daily, click  here. The post Georgia football podcast: National publication suggests UGA could have surprising All-American candidate appeared first on DawgNation.
  • As the crowd roars with anticipation for the Georgia Bulldogs game to begin, you want to make sure that your tee makes your passion clear. This Banner State T-shirt from Fanatics Branded will do exactly that! The Georgia Bulldogs graphics showcase both your love for the team, as well as your patriotism everywhere you go. There are plenty of ways to express your intense loyalty, but this may be the best option on game day. Details Material: 100% Cotton Rib-knit collar Screen print graphics Crew neck Short sleeve Tagless Collar Officially licensed Imported Brand: Fanatics Branded $24.99 The post Georgia Bulldogs Fanatics Branded Banner State T-Shirt appeared first on DawgNation.