Commentary

Georgia's bats come alive as Dawgs advance to NCAA super regionals

Originally Published: June 2, 2008
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

ATHENS, Ga. -- On Saturday, national No. 8 seed Georgia trailed Louisville by three runs in the seventh inning and was staring at elimination from the NCAA baseball tournament.

Having already lost to regional No. 4 seed Lipscomb 10-7 in an opening-round game of the Athens Regional on Friday, the SEC champion Bulldogs trailed the 3-seed Cardinals 5-2.

[+] EnlargeRich Poythress
AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark CrammerRich Poythress and the Dawgs proved they play their best under pressure.

"For a few minutes there, it looked like our season could be over," Georgia right fielder Matt Olson said.

If history teaches anything, Olson should have known the Bulldogs were just getting started.

All-America shortstop Gordon Beckham hit a three-run homer to tie the score at 5-5, and the Bulldogs scored four more times in the seventh en route to beating Louisville, 9-8.

Georgia still had to beat Lipscomb on Sunday and Georgia Tech twice more to win the regional. After disposing of the Bisons 14-3 on Sunday, Georgia came back about two hours later and beat the Yellow Jackets, 8-0. It was the first time the Bulldogs had shut out their rivals since 1969.

Georgia, seemingly out of starting pitching, returned to Foley Field to face the Yellow Jackets again Monday night in a winner-take-all championship game. Freshman Justin Grimm, the Bulldogs' starting pitcher, didn't record an out before he was yanked in the first inning.

Things looked rather, ahem, grim for Georgia.

But after Georgia Tech scored five times in the bottom of the first inning to take a 5-3 lead, Georgia responded by beating the Yellow Jackets even worse than the night before. The Bulldogs pounded out 18 hits and took advantage of six Tech errors in an 18-6 rout in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,518.

Georgia advanced to host North Carolina State in a super regional at Foley Field starting Friday (ESPN, noon ET).

"It's crazy, isn't it?" Georgia coach David Perno said. "I'll tell you, after Friday, I told our guys history is on your side here. We just had to play to our identity and we did it."

During the NCAA tournament, at least, Georgia has played its best with its back to the wall. The Bulldogs are now 15-0 in NCAA elimination games at Foley Field, winning four this past weekend. It is the third time Georgia lost its first game in the NCAA tournament before rallying to advance to the next round.

The Bulldogs previously did it in 1987 and 2001 and advanced both times to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

"I don't know why," Perno said. "I think it's just the right players at the right time and Foley Field has been good to us."

[+] EnlargeGordon Beckham
Icon SMIGordon Beckham's home run against Louisville provided a spark for Georgia's offense.

When the Bulldogs lost to Lipscomb on Friday night, though, this Georgia team seemed to lack what it takes to come from behind. The Bulldogs struggled mightily during the past two weeks, losing two of three games to Alabama in their final regular-season series and then going 0-for-2 at the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.

The Bulldogs were sputtering so badly at season's end that most college baseball pundits were somewhat surprised they were awarded a national seed for the NCAA tournament.

"We were a little beat up and lost our swagger and lost our confidence," Perno said.

Then Beckham's three-run blast against Louisville seemed to turn everything around.

"Gordon hit that big home run and it just opened up the flood gates," Perno said.

After losing to Lipscomb, which was making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament, Georgia scored 49 runs and recorded 69 hits in the last four games of the regional.

Olson, who had only 16 hits in Georgia's 15 games before the NCAA tournament, had 18 hits in five regional games. He hit .692 over the weekend, going 12-for-16 during the final two days.

First baseman Rich Poythress, who missed the SEC tournament because of a wrist injury, hit three homers in the last three games of the regional. Catcher Bryce Massanari, who was hitting .207 on March 9, hit .500 with one homer and six RBIs over the weekend.

"I couldn't be more proud of this team than I am right now," said Olson, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the regional. "We easily could have been two and done here if this team had just rolled over. But everyone came together, stepped up and got it done."

Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall, who somehow kept his team together after junior pitcher Michael Hutts died April 11 from a heroin overdose, said the Bulldogs were too tough on their home field.

"We didn't play, obviously, at a championship level tonight," Hall said. "I'll take full responsibility for that. Give Georgia a lot of credit. They suffered a loss early and won the games they needed to win to advance.

"They play great here at home and that's why the regular season and conference games are so important. It is a tremendous advantage to be playing at home, and they took full advantage of it."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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