Sixth-Annual Red & Black Classic Preview

For the sixth year in a row, the University of Georgia softball program will be hosting the Red & Black Classic. The tournament will feature the Ohio State Buckeyes, Elon Phoenix, and the Winthrop Eagles. This will mark the sixth consecutive year that I have gone to this particular tournament and it is always a good one! The tournament will open up on Friday as Elon and Ohio State square off at 12:30pm, followed by Georgia’s two games against Elon and Ohio State at 3:00PM and 5:30PM respectively. Day two of the tournament will feature Georgia taking on Elon and Ohio State again (12:30PM & 3:00PM), while the Sunday match-up will be Georgia taking on Winthrop at 12:30PM.

Georgia has not squared off against the Ohio State Buckeyes since knocking them out of the 2009 Athens Super Regional–in turn advancing Georgia to their first ever trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. That was probably the most fun season of softball I can remember in a very long time, especially the Ohio State games! I can remember painting up and going to the 2009 Super Regional–I screamed so much that I had a migraine and sore throat for two days! Haha!

Paige Wilson preparing to connect on a hard hit in a game in the 2012 Red & Black Classic.

Paige Wilson preparing to connect on a hard hit in a game in the 2012 Red & Black Classic. (Courtesy Georgiadogs.com)

Ohio State is not the powerhouse program that they were in recent history, but still cannot be over looked! The top pitcher of last year’s Buckeye staff was Mikayla Endicott–she  struck out 189 batters in 197 innings pitched and sported a 2.56 era for the season. It appears that a lot of the Buckeye’s offensive production will have to come from the sophomore and junior class–especially after graduating senior slugger, Alicia Herron. I think this will be a very good test for the young dawgs early on in the season! Ohio State finished the 2012 season with a 31-23 record and ended their season with a 4-1 win over Penn State in regular season play.

The Phoenix of Elon are no strangers to Jack Turner Stadium, and after not visiting Georgia in 2012, have made their return to Athens for the fourth time in five years! Many of the ladies from Elon are no strangers to Georgia either, after all, they have 5 Georgia natives on their roster in 2013! One of those Georgia natives is senior, Southern Conference Preseason 1st Team OF, Tomeka Watson. Tomeka and I were good friends and always saw each other at the fields growing up because we went to high school at Jackson High School together–she was a few years younger than I. Shout out to the Red Devils of Jackson! 😀 She was one of the toughest hitters to strikeout in terms of Ks/Ab in 2011 and 2012 too I believe! Watson, who played travel ball with the Georgia Elite Gold,  is a stellar outfielder with a lot of power from the right side; it seems she always has multi-hit games against us! On the other end of the experience scale, Phoenix newcomer pitcher, Kayla Caruso, is a freshman from Harrison High School where she was a stellar pitcher! She pitched for the East Cobb Bullets if I am not mistaken. Cannot wait to watch this game! Elon finished the 2012 season with a 24-27 tally and ended their year with a 2-4 loss to College of Charleston in the SoCon Conference Tournament.

Elon’s Tomeka Watson will be one of the top players to watch at the 6th Annual Red & Black Classic! (Courtesy Flickr.com)

Last, but certainly not least, are the Winthrop Eagles out of the Big South Conference. In 2012, the Eagles proved that they are more than capable of upsetting an SEC powerhouse program by knocking off the Tennessee Volunteers by a score of 2-1 in the NFCA Leadoff Classic. Winthrop finished their 2012 season with a 16-39 record and exited 2012 with a loss to conference foe, Campbell University. If they were able to knock off the Vols last year, I am certainly not going to let that 16-39 record convince me of anything! Should also be a good game!

I sure hope that these freshmen are ready to play and I hope that the veterans are prepared to step it up this year! Gotta get back to the WCWS this year after a two-season drought! The road starts here in Athens a week from now! Come out and bring your friends and let’s support our Georgia Bulldogs! Admission is FREE and the players will be signing autographs and posters after the games! As always, Go Dawgs!

2013 Uniform Sneak Peak!

It feels as if the girls have been wearing the same uniforms since 2008, and  I have long wondered when Georgia would upgrade their uniforms. Last year, the team chose to wear the striped stirrups/socks and it looked tremendous. It really had a throwback feel to it! This year, it looks as if Georgia has upgraded the uniform even more and it looks better than ever!

Today, UGA Softball Twitter posted a photograph of Samantha LaZear posing in front of a green screen for the 2013 UGA Softball poster. In the photo, LaZear sports what appears to be an updated top and new cleats. But, what surprised me most was the move to add a pair of red pants with black pinstripe to the uniform…I cannot remember seeing a Dawg in a pair of those red pants in several years, at least 5-6 years minimum.

I think the uniform and cleats look great and cannot wait to see the poster! Come the start of the season, a lot of the girls are going to have some cramping hands after signing so many posters for the youth teams that attend regularly! Only nine days away until first pitch! Go Dawgs!

UGA Softball's Instagram catches Sam LaZear striking a pose for the 2013 UGA Softball Poster! Courtesy UGA Softball Twitter)

UGA Softball’s Instagram catches Sam LaZear striking a pose for the 2013 UGA Softball Poster! (Courtesy UGA Softball Twitter/Instagram)

ESPN/USA Softball Ranks Georgia #8 in Preseason Poll

After receiving enough votes to nab the #9 spot in the NFCA/USA Today Preseason Poll, it has been announced that Georgia is sitting at #8 in the ESPN/USA Softball Preseason Poll. Just ahead of Georgia at #7 in this poll is Missouri, and it is notable that the Tigers do not play during the opening weekend of the season. If UGA does well in week one, look for a slight jump over Missouri in the polls (fingers crossed!). Many of the top teams in the nation will be tested in week one, and the first regular poll of the season will surely be in a new order and possibly even feature some new faces.

A lot of people ask me what the difference between the two polls is, and to be quite honest, there isn’t much of one at all. When games are televised, the ESPN ranking is used beside Georgia’s name, and when articles are written on the GeorgiaDogs website, both rankings are used. Both polls are voted on by a selected group of college softball coaches. At the end of the season, average poll position, strength of schedule, and RPI are some of the most momentous factors in determining postseason seeding.

Go Dawgs!

Georgia Picked to Finish Third in SEC East for 2013

The Southeastern Conference coaches voted in the SEC Preseason Poll, concluding that (1)Alabama would repeat as SEC Conference Champions. (9)Georgia was picked to finish third in the SEC East division, placing behind SEC newcomer, (8)Missouri, and longtime SEC foe, (6)Tennessee. Tennessee received five first-place votes, while Alabama finished with eight. The full results of this year’s SEC Preseason Poll are listed below as follows:

Conference Champion: Alabama (8), Tennessee (5)

Eastern Division:
1. (6)Tennessee (12 points)
2. (8)Missouri (30 points)
3. (9)Georgia (34 points)
4. (14)Florida (38 points)
5. Kentucky (58 points)
6. South Carolina (65 points)

Western Division:
1. (1)Alabama (12 points)
2. (10)LSU (28 points)
3. (17)Texas A&M (31 points)
4. Arkansas (51 points)
5. Mississippi State (56 points)
6. Auburn (63 points)
7. Ole Miss (74 points)

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So you may be thinking to yourself as a Bulldog fan that finishing third in the East sounds horrible, but let’s not freak out just yet! The 2013 SEC Preseason Coaches Poll is literally an exact translation of the already released 2013 Top 25 Preseason Poll–simply applied to SEC teams. Have a great day everyone and Go Dawgs!

Morgan Montemayor delivers a pitch against SEC rival Florida in 2012.

Morgan Montemayor delivers a pitch against SEC rival Florida in 2012. (Courtesy Georgiadogs.com)

The Battle for Third Base

With the departure of last year’s starting third baseman, then-freshman Gracie Goulder, who has now transferred to become a UCLA Bruin, came the rise of many doubts and questions about Georgia’s “hot corner” defense. If you had the chance to watch Goulder play last year, then you already know she did not make many errors at all, could handle the hot shots on the ground, and could sniff out a slap or bunt from a mile away. But, alas, with Goulder now playing for the Bruins, who will step up and play the third base position for Georgia?

Gracie Goulder will play for UCLA in 2013. (Courtesy UCLA Athletics)

Early in the season, the Georgia staff could have two possible answers to that question in Bryanna “Cricket” Blanco and Anna Swafford. But the real question to be answered is which girl will be playing the hot corner come time for conference play…

Anna Swafford started in 51 games during the 2012 season, batting a .216 clip with 11 RBI and 3 long balls, including a line-drive shot off of defending national champions, Alabama. Swafford was primarily used as a DH or an outfielder, although 2013 has brought with it the need for a new Bulldog third basemen–could this be Swafford’s year to step up and fill the shoes of Georgia’s previous two hot corner experts (Goulder and Goler), or no? In my opinion, and after hours upon hours of studying UGA softball, film, and statistics, it would appear that, assuming she makes offensive improvements, that Swafford would be the ideal candidate for the start. These past couple of weeks at practice, Swafford has impressed me with her fielding at the hot corner, as well as with her swings in the batter’s box. Today, for example, Swafford hit a deep shot to LF that fell just foul of a home-run, and then hit a scorching line-drive to Niaja Griffin in CF off of Glasco. She is making very good contact on the ball right now, possesses the speed to lay down the bunt when called upon, and has looked great defensively at third. It seems that Cricket has more of a natural feel for high-level infield work and that Anna has to work and think a little harder, but all of that hard work is what is going to make Swafford great!

Anna Swafford smiling big after going 2-2 against Alabama in 2012. (Courtesy Georgiadogs.com)

Then, we have Cricket. Bryanna “Cricket” Blanco is a freshman on the 2013 UGA squad and hails from Maryville, Tennessee where she played for Fury and Southern Force Gold as a middle-infielder. Cricket has mainly played second base and SS, but now has a glimmering opportunity before her unlike any other she has ever had the chance of attaining: the chance to be the starting third baseman for the Georgia Bulldogs. Cricket was an offensive and defensive force in high school and travel ball, garnering multiple Under Armor All-American awards. At practice and in Fall Ball, Cricket has often struggled with getting on base, but when called upon to play third base, has done so with ease. Cricket generally makes excellent contact on the ball, but tends to hit it right at a fielder or either deep in the outfielder. With a little offensive work, Cricket is going to be a stellar offensive player, which will add to her depth as a player overall.

Cricket Blanco laughs with a high school teammate during her senior season at Maryville. (Courtesy Knoxnews.com)

So, with a little less than two weeks remaining until first pitch in Athens, the Georgia coaching staff has a serious decision to make regarding their third base play in 2013. Expect to see both girls get time at the corner during early season tournaments, Palm Springs, and the ADIDAS Invitational, but once SEC time comes, the decision will certainly have been made.

Georgia has had some extremely talented third basemen in recent years, perhaps the most famous one of all being All-American Alisa Goler, now NPF superstar. Anna and Cricket have a lot of work to do before being considered as a Goler-esque player, but after watching these two work and improve, it wouldn’t surprise me to see both get starts as middle-infielders next season. As always, Go Dawgs!

1/26/13: Practice Update

I always enjoy getting the chance to drive over to Jack Turner Stadium and watch the girls practice, but oftentimes in the Winter it is simply too cold or either the girls are having indoor practice. Luckily for me, when I arrived today the ladies were taking front toss and I got the chance to really look at some of the rookies and break down their swings. In soft toss, Niaja Griffin really impressed me a lot in that she has flat-out improved her game and her strength! I am willing to guess that out of the 30-35 pitches I saw Niaja take, she probably hit 10-12 of them out of the park. Glasco and Iosefa were hitting almost all of their soft toss way over the trees in dead center, and Katie Browne hit a few towering shots also.

After finishing soft toss and picking up the field, the girls split up into different groups and prepared to scrimmage. Georgia ran their scrimmage in a really unique way today, rotating fielders and batters every 6 outs, but leaving the same pitcher in for 12 outs until taking them out. It was interesting to watch for sure! Montemayor is back home in Arizona for a family function but will return to campus and practice on Monday–I kind of enjoyed this because I got to really focus on the newbies–Glasco and Wilkinson–and watch Sito pitch too. In one of the groups, Lu had Swafford playing third base, and in the other group Cricket got the nod at third. Overall, I think Swafford is the better fielder and has better range, but I think Cricket would prove to be the better offensive choice.

And now, my prediction for the line-up in 2013…

The four pitchers will all split time, although I think the staff is hoping that Montemayor assumes the ace role and provides some much needed improvements, as well as leadership for the rookie pitchers! When Geri Ann is not pitching, she will play 1st base, and I think when she is pitching, Iosefa will get the opporunity to play first–other than that situation, I think Iosefa will serve as the DH. Sito played a dang good 2nd base today at practice and I would expect to see her there for the remainder of the season barring injury. Paige had a couple of botched plays at SS today, but looked more out of sync than anything. I expect her to be fine for the regular season. After watching Cricket and Swafford compete at 3B today, I can honestly say I have no clue as to who they will go with. Browne will be the primary catcher–perhaps every game of her 4 years at UGA! The outfield, from left to right, will look like this: Niaja Griffin, Sam LaZear, & Kaylee Puailoa. Whoever is slumping for the week or if a different DH is needed will be taken over in the line-up by Olney I would imagine…her swings looked good today although she didn’t come up with any big hits in the scrimmage. Sowers and Branch each had a few at-bats today and boy was I impressed with the speed on Sowers! She can fly around the bases! Branch put down a couple of bunts in the scrimmage, but still needs some swing work, although I would presume her and Reed will be primarily used as runners this season.

Niaja Griffin slides into second after a successful steal attempt in a 2012 game. (Courtesy Georgiadogs.com)

As far as pitching goes, Geri Ann was throwing pretty hard today, although not her hardest. While watching Geri warm up, I saw her throw the rise a lot and it looked phenomenal. Wilkinson had the rise and off speed pitches working quite well today (I believe she had the most Ks), and Sito’s drop ball was dang near unhittable today. Sito did a good job at pitching to LaZear too–luring her in with a couple of knee high drop balls before almost fanning her with a tight screw ball that the umpire called a ball just off the corner. I was impressed with all three hurlers today, but cannot wait to have Mo back in town in the circle for the dawgs!

Statistics at practice are not the most revealing because you never know who was out late the night before, who was studying for that 8am exam, and who was just having a bad/weird day; that being said, many of the players performed well in the scrimmage today. Iosefa was experiencing major beast mode and was hitting everything that was fired her way! Geri Ann also put the bat hard on the ball several times too. Below, I have listed the H/AB statistics and some other notes for today’s scrimmage. Enjoy!

Sito: (1-3) HBP, infield single, ground out, ground out; Tess also pitched for 6 outs and was getting pretty much all groundouts on her drop ball and offspeed pitches! Looked good!

Puailoa: (0-4) K, pop out, ground out, ground out, HBP; Kaylee looked great while doing front toss, but her swing sort of fell apart against Geri’s pitching.

Cricket: (2-4; 1RBI) squeeze bunt single, double, K, K;

Branch: (0-2) pop-out, K;

LaZear: (2-4) groundout, groundout, infield single, reached on FC, single;

Olney: (0-3) BB, ground out, ground out, ground out; Olney hit all of her balls on the ground extremely hard, but right at the fielder–tough luck today for Olney!

Iosefa: (3-5; 4RBI) HR 2RBI, single, double 2RBI, fly out, fly out; Tina tore it up out there today, end of story!

Swafford: (1-3; 1RBI) K, bunt single 1RBI, K;

Wilson: (0-2) ground out, ground out, BB; Wilson was making great contact today, but seemed a little out of the loop overall today–not too worried about Paige, she will be fine!

Griffin: (1-2) double, SAC, ground out;

Browne: (0-2) ground out, ground out;

Sowers: (0-2) ground out, ground out; Saw great speed out of Sowers today; easily one of the Top 5 fastest kids on the team this season!

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PS: The new UGA Softball billboard was up today when I arrived at the stadium to watch practice. I have included a picture of it below! Also below is a link to a video I recorded from this week’s practice. It’s just a short snippet but it gives you guys a look at the newbies playing on the field. In the video,Glasco is pitching and LaZear slaps to Cricket at 3B who fires home to Browne who gets the force out. Enjoy! In the future, I will be able to integrate videos directly into the blog, but still have to pay the $100.00 video upgrade! Haha! Enjoy and Go Dawgs!

LINK: http://videobam.com/bvhMZ

Paige Wilson, Tess Sito, and Morgan Montemayor are featured on the 2013 UGA Softball Billboard at the entrance of Jack Turner Stadium!

Paige Wilson, Tess Sito, and Morgan Montemayor are featured on the 2013 UGA Softball Billboard at the entrance of Jack Turner Stadium!

First Pitch: Two Weeks Away

For some reason, it seems like this break between the 2012 and 2013 softball season has lasted so much longer than in past years. It cannot be that I didn’t keep myself busy as between giving pitching instruction, coaching 14u travel ball, working, and family–I really had no time for sitting around and waiting, haha! So in the midst of this softball drought of sorts, I have been trying to imagine just how hard this new, freshmen-laden roster is going to compete.

Despite the lofty rankings in the EPSN 100 recruiting base, it comes down to performing at the right place at the right time, something freshmen can often struggle with. Not to overshadow the veterans with the rookies, it is noteworthy that Georgia returns three seniors (Sito,Olney, and Branch) as well as a junior pitcher who had a breakout season in 2011 (Morgan Montemayor). Last year “Mo” was struggling a bit, but thankfully Arevalo was here to take over the leadership role she had worked so hard on achieving for 3 hard years! This year it will be up to Montemayor to change things up a bit, literally and figuratively. After watching Morgan throw in practice and in Fall Ball, it looks as if she has gotten into much better physical shape and is really working the corners well! I am extremely excited to see her on opening weekend!

Olney plays 1st base in a 2012 game against rival Florida. (Courtesy Georgiadogs.com)

 Everyone is so excited about watching the freshmen compete in 2013, and I think these girls know the expectations are very high! The target on their backs is enormous, and the pressure will rear its head, but after watching these freshmen battle back after being down six runs on the road to FSU in the Fall, I am drinking the Kool-Aide! 🙂

      Two weeks away until first pitch against Elon. Should be a great game! I will provide weekend updates, photos, video, and recap coverage for the first two home tournaments, as well as for Palm Springs. Palm Springs is going to be a blast!

Tess Sito in action on the mound. (Courtesy Georgiadogs.com)