“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”
(Bob Feller, Cleveland Indians Pitcher and Hall of Fame Member)
The memorable words of Bob Feller posted above could never hold more true for Lu Harris-Champer and our Georgia Bulldogs softball program. After getting off to a sluggish 7-6 start, the Georgia softball team now returns to the friendly confines of Jack Turner Stadium to host the Bulldog Invitational. No doubt about it, these early season tournaments, perhaps with the exception of the Marry Nutter Collegiate Classic, are tournaments that us Bulldog fans are used to seeing shortened, run-rule results in favor of the Bulldogs. Last year, the girls got off to a 13-2 start after the first three weeks of the season, and now the girls find themselves with six losses early in the season. I think many would agree with me on the fact that it is better for these losses to come in February than in May. In defense of the Bulldogs, the losses to Stanford, Washington, and Oklahoma were all against ranked opponents, and the losses to Cal-Poly and Ohio State were to teams who have beaten a few ranked teams also. The only loss that looks pretty bad on the resumé is the season-opening loss to the Elon Phoenix. This is a team that starts 5-7 freshmen in the rotation on a daily basis, and it is expected that they will take their lumps here and there. But, what isn’t fun to watch is losing to teams while using a different configuration of personnel time and time again. Three weeks into the season, the roles should be fairly defined at this point, and the staff now probably knows who they can rely on against the toughest of opponents, and who needs a little more work and experience. Now that Sito is healthy enough to pitch, this could be a “Make Us” or “Break Us” moment. Deep down, I feel as if this is going to be a defining turnaround moment in the season! The offense is going to be fine, and with a little defense work and experience, the errors are going to dramatically decrease. However, a key part of the success of UGA is going to depend on the actions of Head Coach, Lu Harris-Champer. Whether it was Nicholls State, Southern Mississippi, coaching in the Pros, or now here in Athens, Lu has shown that she can win lots of ballgames no matter where she is employed. But, with a young team full of girls who are at a critical age in terms of “next-level” development, the actions of LHC are going to momentously influence the molding of these young Bulldogs.
And so, I must ask: What Will Lu Do?
Roll over and die is not in the vocabulary of the tenured coach, but you have to wonder how she will respond to the early losses and discombobulation. I have seen around 7-8 different line-up configurations, and I feel as if I have seen even more defensive configurations, particularly in left field. Now, it should be obvious who the “Rough-n-Tough” girls are, and they should get the day-to-day starting responsibilities. It is not my duty in any way, shape, or form to even possess a real input regarding the personnel configuration, but I think you have to pick someone and stick with them. The same thing goes for the offensive line-up–have to choose something and stick with it. Sam LaZear is really coming into her own, and I think she will fit the leadoff role the best for this young team. Sito, Glasco, and Wilson would make an ideal trio of two, three, and four-hole batters, in my opinion. I know I have said it already, but now that Tess is able to pitch more than once a week at practice, I would expect and hope to see her and Geri rotating back and forth from now on. This does not mean that the role of Morgan Montemayor will be diminished, as I believe she will be an integral part of UGA’s success in 2013. It is no secret that Montemayor throws high heat, but her spin is not optimal for pitching a full seven innings against tough opponents on a weekly basis. I think she could pitch every game of the season, but with 1-3 innings in each game. She would be an excellent reliever as it often takes opponents half of a game to get a feel for her pitching style and to detect that there isn’t much movement. I really Hope that Lu explains the importance that Montemayor is going to play to not just Morgan, but to the entire team. MoMo is so talented, and if she can spend a few weeks working some more on the off-speed stuff, she is going to be an effective reliever. Wilkinson showed that she can be effective also, and I think she will get a good slate (7-10) starts on the season also.
With regards to offense, I think the girls did fine in Palm Springs, but went cold in the middle part of the schedule–unfortunately this was against the toughest opponents. Sito is heating up at the plate, and it is no secret that she hits much better when she is getting regular starts in the circle. Geri Ann was hit-or-miss in Palm Springs, but I am not too worried about Geri, Paige, Sito, or LaZear. Kaylee Puailoa and Tina Iosefa are slowly starting to come into their own, while Griffin and Olney are starting to get things going on offense also. This young offense can hang them in a game with some of the best talent in the country, but it is going to take the pitching staff stepping up for a deep run in the post-season to be possible!
There is no doubt about it, Lu is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It is going to take being extremely patient, while also pushing the girls extremely hard in order for the team to bounce back and flex their talent before SEC play begins. I have no doubt in my mind surrounding Lu’s coaching ability, it just seems this year it’s taking things a little longer to get going than in the past. As stated before, she needs to stick with one line-up and win or lose, develop that particular configuration on the field. Obviously there will be some adjustments throughout the year depending on the opponent at hand, but for the most part, there needs to be some day-to-day uniformity for chemistry and confidence-building measures. Each day and every game is indeed a new day. It is going to be up to this young group of girls to step up and respond to adversity and they have no time to delay! I would expect to see the girls come out fighting hard, attempting to win every inning of every game, no matter the opponent.
As always, Go Dawgs!