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Chip Towers

REWIND: Tough start for Diamond Dogs, tough finish for men’s hoops

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MONDAY MORNING REWIND

ATHENS – Tough start to the Scott Stricklin’s career as Georgia baseball coach. The Bulldogs were trounced for a second time Sunday by Georgia Southern, 18-4. That gave the Eagles a 2-1 victory in the season-opening, three-game series and disappointed a goodly crowd of people who came out to welcome in the new era, Stricklin among them.

“It was great to see the crowds we had Saturday and (Sunday),” Stricklin said. “Georgia fans love their baseball, and we’re going to keep working. … This is a big bump in the road, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

It was a particularly rough weekend for Georgia’s pitching staff. They gave up a four-run second inning on Saturday and an 11-run third on Sunday. They came out of it with a 6.67 collective ERA and opponents hitting .356 against it.

“I know our pitching is better than what we showed this weekend,” Stricklin said.

it’s important to keep in mind that these Bulldogs are far from full strength at this point. UGA is without arguably its best player, pitcher/first baseman/DH Jared Walsh is now a third of a way through his nine-game suspension for breaking team rules. And freshman Mike Bell, who is slated to be the starting shortstop, is out for at least two more weeks with a broken hand.

But it’s going to be a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs, and there will likely be many more bumps in the road this season. A trip to Florida State awaits before they’ll get back to full strength. Responding to Stricklin’s tireless promotion in the offseason, fans came to Foley Field in record numbers this weekend. But they should be advised to bring patience with them to the ballpark this first season.

Fox’s Hounds fighting to finish

Speaking of packed houses, Georgia men’s basketball recorded its second sellout of the season Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum for its thrilling 61-60 win over Ole Miss. The Bulldogs only other sellout came way back in November in a losing cause against Georgia Tech.

This was a decidedly more upbeat occasion as the Georgia fell behind by 11, went ahead by 11, then withstood a furious charge from the Rebels’ and their villainous shooting star Marshall Henderson. Henderson got 24 points and the drama he so longs for with another Oscar-worthy acting performance when he fouled Marcus Thornton with his face but drew a flagrant foul. That could have left the Bulldogs unhinged, but they gathered their wits after the controversial moment and Charles Mann calmly jarred the winning foul shot with a tick and a half on the clock to score a fourth victory in a row and sole possession of third place in the SEC.

Now what, you ask?

Not to put any more pressure on them than there already is, but the Bulldogs’ postseason fate will likely be decided this week, in my opinion. And they’re still playing for the NIT at this point.

With the win over the No. 62 Rebels, Georgia’s RPI crept up to 85 from 100. An extremely challenging task awaits Tuesday night when the Bulldogs visit Tennessee (15-10, 6-6), then they go to South Carolina (10-15, 3-9) on Saturday. They’ll be expected to win one and not the other, but they need to take both to really give the college basketball world something to talk about.

To date, Georgia’s position among the top four in the SEC is given only to playing in a weak conference. Take these two games and the Bulldogs go from being thought of as an anomaly to being one of the stories of the year in the conference.

“We’re starting to toughen up,” Fox said Saturday. “We’re starting to develop some toughness about us. It has allowed us to get through some adversity on the road and allowed us to get through some adversity (against Ole Miss). And that’s important in competition. You have to have some toughness about you because you’re going to be challenged.”

Football coaches’ salaries set

UGA this past week released the salary figure of the Bulldogs’ last assistant coach hired, Mike Ekeler, at $250,000. Since January, coach Mark Richt also hired defensive coordinator/secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt ($850,000), outside linebackers/nickelbacks coach Kevin Sherrer ($200,000) and defensive line coach Tracy Rocker ($300,000).

That puts the Bulldogs almost exactly where they were last season in terms of football payroll. It’s important to note that, with the exception of Pruitt, those figures represent only the base salary portion of these coaches’ compensation. There will be some supplemental income when their actual contracts are completed in the coming weeks. But it’s not expected to drastically increase the numbers.

So effectively, the Bulldogs’ coaching staff payroll — $6.4 million last year — has remained the same despite all the off-season turnover on defense. Including Richt’s $3.2 million deal, it will likely go up slightly when expected new deals for running backs coach Bryan McClendon and tight ends coach John Lilly are announced. Each added coordinator responsibilities to their titles earlier this month.

Short-handed netters fall short

Competing with only four players, the Georgia men’s tennis team nearly pulled off an incredible comeback over Mississippi State on Sunday in ITA Indoor Championships in Houston.

No. 1 singles player Austin Smith came down with a stomach illness, the squad’s No. 3 player Ben Wagland was suspended and No. 4 Garrett Brasseaux was out with injury. That meant the Bulldogs had to forfeit No. 3 doubles and Nos. 5 and 6 singles before the match even began. After dropping the double point, Georgia needed to win each of the four contested singles points, but managed only three in the loss.

“Unfortunately, we had some tough luck with Austin’s illness today,” coach Manual Diaz said. “Going down to five players is already a travesty, but we were basically competing with only four, and really were so close to winning today against a very good Mississippi State team. I’m really proud of the guys and what they gave us. We had match point for the doubles, but MSU beat us there with two great returns. Eric [Diaz] is gaining great experience these last couple days, and had a tough third set against a very good player. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Bubba gets Victory No. 5

It took a while, but Bubba Watson finally notched his fifth PGA Tour victory.

Watson went 64-64 over the weekend and birdied his final hole to win the Northern Trust Open by two shots on Sunday in Los Angeles. It had been nearly two years and 41 tournaments since his last victory — The Masters.

“When I won the Masters, it was just me,” Watson said. “Family members were there, but not my wife and not my son, who was just adopted at that point, and now is two weeks away from being 2 years old. What a thrill. We’ll have some pictures with him and my wife and the trophy, so it’s nice.”

Bubba and Angie Watson’s adopted son Caleb is 2 years old now and was romping around the 18th green as Watson seal the vitory. It was Watson’s fifth PGA Tour win, the highest total among all the former Bulldogs

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