Georgia vs. Campbell
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Foley Field, Athens
For ticket information, call 706-542-1231
Prior to this season, Michael Curry never paid much attention to the NCAA Baseball Tournament Selection Show.
The 2015 Gainesville High graduate didn’t have much reason to do so, given his first two years with the University of Georgia were losing campaigns that left the Bulldogs well outside the projected postseason field.
But following a season that exceeded even his optimistic expectations, Curry and his teammates were glued to the screen Monday as Georgia learned its tournament fate.
“I think midway through the season, we started realizing we had a chance to be a national seed,” Curry said. “We weren’t just fighting to host a regional, we were fighting to be a top-eight seed. … It was exciting when we saw Georgia come up on the screen as a national seed.”
The Bulldogs earned that highly coveted postseason designation for the first time in a decade, receiving the No. 8 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s the fourth-ever national seed for the program, which reached a regional for just the 11th time in history.
Making the top-eight cut was all-important for Georgia, which is guaranteed to host a super regional if it advances out of this week’s double-elimination regional in Athens, starting with a game against Campbell at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Foley Field.
For a program that hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2011, this season marks a huge leap forward under fifth-year coach Scott Stricklin.
“It has been a blast,” Curry said. “When he got here, coach Stricklin always said he wanted to turn the program around and get it going in the right direction. This was the year where it finally turned around.
“I talked with some of the other guys about that the other day — to be able to look back and know I was a part of that turning point for the program is awesome.”
In fact, Curry has played one of the biggest parts for the resurgent Bulldogs.
The junior cleanup hitter is among Georgia’s top three in batting average (.315), hits (68), home runs (10) and RBIs (47). A leader in the clubhouse as well, Curry moved from catcher to right field this season, though he mostly served as the team’s designated hitter.
“The transition was great. It’s a lot of fun, playing outfield,” Curry said. “I know my main focus for the team is to hit and produce runs, and that was my mindset all year.”
It helped him garner second team All-SEC recognition as a designated hitter/utility player. The ninth-ranked Bulldogs, meanwhile, improved to 37-19 overall and posted an 18-12 Southeastern Conference record, good for the No. 3 seed in the league’s tournament last week in Hoover, Alabama.
But Georgia’s trip didn’t last as long as many thought it would. The Bulldogs fell Texas A&M, 7-0, in their tournament opener before eventual SEC champion and fellow national seed Ole Miss eliminated them with a 5-4 win in 10 innings.
Yet the NCAA awarded Georgia a top-eight seed anyway, a sign of faith in the team’s total body of work that Curry said has “built a sort of confidence” in him and his teammates.
“We wanted to make a little noise and win some games in Hoover, but it didn’t happen,” Curry said. “We all forgot about Hoover, but in a positive way. … What happened is tough, but at the end of the day, we’re a national seed, and that’s what we want. It’s rewarding.”
Now the Bulldogs have to take advantage of the opportunity, beginning against Big South Conference champion Campbell (35-24). No. 18 Duke (40-15) and Troy (41-19), which clash at 2 p.m. Friday in Athens, round out the four-team regional.
This weekend marks the fifth time a regional has come to Athens, which has always boded well for the program.
Every season in which Georgia hosted a regional has culminated in a College World Series appearance, and Curry is determined to do his part to keep the streak going.
“I never imagined this in the preseason,” Curry said. “Having it become reality and having succeeded in reaching this goal is exciting. … It’s great for the university as a whole. It’s exciting to see not only how this ends but to see what the future has in store.”