Hard road awaits UGA baseball

ATHENS, Ga. -- True to form, Georgia baseball coach David Perno doesn’t pull any punches when asked whether the next month will define his team’s season.

With a treacherous stretch ahead that begins with this weekend’s series at No. 9 Arkansas (22-6, 5-4 SEC), Perno’s 24th-ranked Bulldogs (18-11, 4-5) know they must begin performing with improved consistency to have any chance of meeting their lofty preseason goals.

“It may not equate to a ton of wins, but we at least are going to be forced to establish some sort of identity of who we are and the things we can do well definitely have to show up,” Perno said. “If that happens and we do get some wins this month, we could be in really good shape for the stretch run.

“It’s a thing where if you’re coming into the season and they tell you you may not get off to the kind of start that you want to, you’ve got to beat these teams at some point,” he continued. “If you’re capable of going to the World Series, if you’re capable of competing in the front of our conference, you’ve got to beat the Arkansas, you’ve got to beat the LSUs, you’ve got to hang in there against the Floridas and you’ve got to hang in there against Ole Miss.

“Those are four of the best teams in our league without a doubt. Their record shows it. If we can’t hang in there with them, then we’re probably not as good as we thought.”

The Bulldogs will gain a clearer idea of exactly where they sit in those next several SEC series, when they follow the trip to Arkansas with a home series against No. 15 Ole Miss with weekend trips to No. 1 Florida and No. 12 LSU before the end of April.

There is no let-up in that slate, which is somewhat unfortunate for a team that five of its last six games because of inconsistent play.

That helps Perno find a silver lining in the recent dark cloud. He believes his team is capable of much better play than it has delivered thus far.

“We’ve got stuff to work with. I think all that’s got to come together,” Perno said. “That’s the good part about it is we’re capable of doing more and we’re capable of playing better. There’s no better time than right now to get that going.”

Friday night starting pitcher Alex Wood (3-1, 2.55 ERA) agreed. Wood said he and his fellow starting pitchers Michael Palazzone (0-3, 5.03) and Pete Nagel (0-0, 3.41) can help turn things in the right direction by pitching deeper into games, taking some of the burden off a sometimes-overtaxed bullpen.

If they do that, and if the team regains the sharp defensive form it showed early in the season while continuing its progress at the plate, Wood believes the Bulldogs will be able to hang with any opponent -- even the highly ranked conference foes who are up next on the schedule.

“If we can’t go out there and compete and beat the best teams in our league, then we’re not going to be able to do what we want to do, which is go to Omaha and win a national championship,” Wood said. “People look at it kind of the other way where it’s, ‘Oh, that’s a tough four or five weeks in a row. We might be in for a long four or five weeks,’ but that’s not the way we look at it. We look at it as we’re as good as anybody and we haven’t played to our potential, which we have not as a whole.

“I think that’s going to be the biggest thing about the next month is us playing to the best of our ability, which I know we’re capable of, and us going out there and winning a bunch of ballgames. I know we’re excited about it.”