Nearly a month ago, the University of Georgia baseball team fell in the NCAA Athens Regional Final against the Florida State Seminoles. The loss brought an end to a 46-17 season where the Bulldogs were the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After many weeks to reflect on the past season and fully embrace the offseason as well as the 2019-2020 season, The Red & Black caught up with head coach Scott Stricklin to talk about the end of the season, recruiting and MLB Draft decisions.
The Red & Black Looking back at the end of the season, could describe the feelings in locker room for you after the FSU defeat?
Scott Stricklin: Really disappointing. I felt really bad for our players, certainly our seniors and our juniors that had played their last game — guys that were going to get drafted and move on. Really difficult. To be on your home field and have an opportunity to move on to the next level, to go to the Super Regionals to have a chance to go to Omaha. That’s what we all dream about, that’s what we all work for and it just didn’t happen. So really disappointed, but we put ourselves in that position for two years in a row and that’s what good programs do. You put yourself in the position to be successful and if you keep doing it, you’re going to break through and that’s the belief that we have.
R&B: Did that sense of deja vu maybe make the loss hurt more knowing that you were in that position just a year ago?
SS: Yeah, there’s no question. When you put yourself in that position two years in a row and you don’t accomplish your goal it’s disappointing and it hurts. I mean it physically hurts. Our coaching staff, our players, everyone involved in the program, our fans, we were all really disappointed. When you take a step back we did have a very good year, but we’re looking to have a great year. And a great year means that you extend your season and you go further. We just want to keep putting ourselves in that position to try and get there.
R&B: Has the loss taught you anything in particular even after 15 years of coaching?
SS: Losses hurt. They don’t feel any better, [and] with the more games that you play, it almost seems like the losses hurt more. It’s never easy no matter what… Losing stinks. We say that all the time, ‘losing stinks.’ So when we practice we have a winner and a loser and we want them to hate losing and to do everything they can to win. When you have a good team, when you have a good group of players that have achieved a lot of high things, it hurts when you lose. I guess the thing that I learned is that losing still hurts and it’s going to continue to hurt. When it stops hurting, that’s when it’s time to stop coaching, but that’s what makes winning so great.
R&B: For you personally, what is it during the offseason that you try maybe to improve on or just to focus on heading into the next year?
SS: Well, it’s always recruiting. As coaches, we recruit our players, we get to pick our players. So the only way you’re going to win championships is if you have really good players. We’re going out there trying to find the best players, so that’s our goal over the summer. Coach [Scott] Daeley, coach [Sean] Kenny and myself, all three of us are on the road a lot watching players constantly communicating with each other, to find the best players possible. That’s what we do to get better is to just continue to recruit really good players and good kids that are going to come in here and be good student-athletes and good citizens and good role models.
R&B: For recruiting is there some sort of criteria you follow by or something you’re looking for personally that you really like in a player?
SS: You know, not really. I don’t want to say that there’s one specific thing I look for. People ask me all the time, ‘what do you look for?’ A player that’s going to be able to play for you is going to make you say ‘wow’ at some point. Do something — whether it be the swing of the bat or a throw of the ball or running from first to third — they’re going to do something that stands out and makes you say ‘wow.’ So we’re looking for that ‘wow’ factor… Guys that really standout athletically on the field. But then once we see them, that's when we start to do our research and homework into what kind of student are they, what kind of kid are they, what kind of teammate are they.
R&B: What’s the recruiting window like from when the season ends to when you can’t add any more players to your roster?
SS: Well, our admissions cutoff is July 1, so we can’t add any players to our roster after July 1. If something happens with the draft, maybe you lose a player unexpectedly and it’s before July 1, you can try to add a player before that, but at the University of Georgia our admissions deadline is July 1... The deadline [for signing a professional contract] is July 12 this year — if someone decides, all of sudden changes their mind and they sign on July 10 we can’t replace them.
R&B: What is your role when players are making the decision to stay in the MLB Draft or not? Do you play any part in talking to them and getting the pulse of what they’re feeling like heading into the draft?
SS: Yeah, we’ll talk very openly with our players because our roster kind of depends on what’s going to happen with the draft. Only 27 players are allowed to be on the roster and you only have 11.7 scholarships to spread among those players. So you have to have a feel, a little bit of what’s going to happen with the draft. So you have to have some communications before the draft happens, and that’s the tough thing is you don’t know what’s going to happen, the player doesn’t know what’s going to happen… As a coaching staff what you have to prepare yourself for is what you will look like as a team after the draft.
R&B: Before even the draft started, Cam Shepherd announced he was coming back to school. Is that something that surprised you from him?
SS: I was a little surprised, pleasantly surprised. I mean he’s a Gold Glove shortstop, he’s the best shortstop in the country. For him to want to come back to Georgia to play his senior year, that shows you he loves this program, he loves this university and he wants to continue to be a part of it. I think that’s the sign of a really good program, when you have guys like Cam Shepherd and Riley King that want to come back. Usually you lose your guys in the draft when they’re juniors, it’s just the way it works. To be able to keep two players like that says a lot about what we’ve been able to build here.