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!

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