Georgia vs. Ohio State
When: Noon today
Where: NCAA Regionals in
ATHENS — Which Georgia team will show up for the NCAA baseball tournament?
The Bulldogs (37-22) were ranked at or near No. 1 in the polls during the first two months of the season. But the team spent the last month in a tailspin, dampening hopes of a return to the College World Series.
Coach David Perno is encouraged by two wins in the Southeastern Conference tournament last week and hopes Georgia is ready to make another run to Omaha after losing to Fresno State in last year’s championship series.
The Bulldogs (37-22) open regional play today in Tallahassee, Fla., against Ohio State (47-10). Host Florida State (42-16) plays Marist (31-26) in the other opening game of the double-elimination format.
Looking for reasons to be hopeful, Perno pointed to SEC tournament wins over Mississippi and Arkansas, which both received bids to the NCAA regionals.
"And we took LSU to the limit," Perno said. "So three out of four games (at the SECs), we played as good as we could. We just didn’t get enough out of the middle of the order."
The Bulldogs were within one victory of winning the national championship in 2008 before losing two straight to Fresno State.
"That was last year," junior center fielder Matt Cerione said. "We are a different team. Of course, that is our goal every year, to get back to Omaha. I feel we can do it."
Through April 24, Georgia looked like a sure thing, boasting a 33-9 record that included an SEC-best 14-5 mark. But the Bulldogs lost 11 of their last 13 regular-season games, including 10 of 11 in SEC play, and limped into the conference tournament.
Star first baseman Rich Poythress, who has 21 homers, 77 RBIs and a .370 average, said a tough schedule may have had something to do with Georgia’s slide, but he shouldered a lot of the blame himself.
"I think it was more a factor of what was going on for this team," he said. "You can’t play average baseball against the heart of the SEC and expect to win. I really struggled for a while."
Poythress’ average peaked at .462 in late March, and he was still over .400 through May 8. Over his last 11 games, he has managed more than one hit in only one game and hasn’t homered since May 3. Still, he is one RBI away from the school’s season record that he shares with last year’s departed star, shortstop Gordon Beckham.
Poythress, Cerione (10 homers, 38 RBIs, .283 average) and catchers Bryce Massanari (19-57-.321) and Joey Lewis (16-52-.272) were key cogs in the Bulldogs’ advance to the finals last year.
"They are a big part of this year, too," Perno said. "If they get going, we can match up with anyone."
The Bulldogs have a veteran pitching staff, led by senior starter Trevor Holder (7-4, 4.34 ERA) and junior closer Dean Weaver (10 saves, 2.77). However, freshmen position players started 224 games this year, compared to 77 starts in 71 games last year.
The most consistent newcomer is third baseman Colby May (11-41-.336).
Georgia and Florida State have some history in the NCAA postseason. The Bulldogs eliminated the Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse at the Super Regionals in 2001 and 2006. Both series were played in Athens.