Monday, June 23, 2008

Diamond Dawgs: Alot to Bark About

Now the baseball team is causing the loudest barking around Athens for its resiliency before and during the College World Series. Remember that red-and-black miracle earlier this spring, when Georgia won the SEC basketball tournament out of nowhere?

There were other impressive things involving Georgia athletics since the start of this academic year. We'll get to them after mentioning that the sum of those things makes the Bulldogs of Mark Richt, Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno favored to become the elite of the elite during the Bowl Championship Series.

"Without a doubt," said Georgia baseball coach David Perno, over the phone from Omaha, Neb. That's where his streaking team will open the best-of-three championship round against Fresno State tonight at 7 p.m. at Rosen- blatt Stadium in search of the fourth national championship overall for the Bulldogs' athletics department since April.

Added Perno, "Baseball, being the last sport [in the academic year], it can ignite things for the following year. It can lead you right into football, and, obviously, you know the importance of football at Georgia."

It's always about football at Georgia. For the moment, it's also about baseball at Georgia.

Prior to that, Perno's Bulldogs had to survive a shocking loss to Lipscomb during their own regional, and then they had to take two of three from North Carolina State during the super regional. After reaching Omaha, the Bulldogs slew No. 1 seed Miami before taking care of Stanford.

So Georgia will end the month as nothing worse than the nation's second-best college baseball team.

That's OK. It's just that becoming the nation's best college baseball team is more Georgia-like these days. In April, theBulldogs won it all in women's gymnastics, and they did the same after the equestrian team events. Then, in May, they took the national title in men's tennis.

If you're counting, Georgia's various sports teams have 11 top-10 finishes during this academic calendar season. In other words, it sounds like coaches and players for theBulldogs motivate each other. Either that, or they scare each other into success since nobody wants to become the mediocre oddballs on campus.

"Iron sharpens iron, and there's nothing but great and class coaches over there [throughout UGA]," said Perno, in his 12th year overall as a coach for theBulldogs' baseball program, including the past seven as head man.

Added Perno, "You have coaches at Georgia with a lot of tenure, from the gymnastics coach, Suzanne Yoculan, Andy Landers [women basketball], Manny Diaz [men's tennis]. ... These are pioneers. They're just phenomenal. You can learn a lot from them, and they definitely know how to win."

Perno forgot to mention Perno, because Perno is a prolific winner, too. He played on Georgia's baseball team that took the national championship in 1990. He later reached the College World Series as a Bulldogs assistant coach, and now he's reaching it for the third time as their head man. I mean, given this baseball thing, and that basketball thing, and all of those other things involving UGA teams, is there any doubt the college sporting gods are preparing to slip on football cleats this fall in Athens?

Georgia athletics director Damon Evans responded quickly over the phone while chuckling, "I hope so."

Georgia sets up staff for final push

The new format for the College World Series has fit Georgia just fine. Thanks to numerous off days, the Bulldogs were able to make judicious use of their deep bullpen and play their way into the championship for the first time since 1990.

Now, Georgia must alter its pitching strategy entering the final, a best-of-three series that starts today against the winner of Sunday's Fresno State-North Carolina game. But coach David Perno likes the way things set up for his team.

"We'll go back to what we've done all year to win the SEC," Perno said. "It's not who or when, it's how. We've beaten some good teams in three-game sets all year long and we need to find a way to win one more series."

Georgia will start junior Trevor Holder (8-4) Monday, with senior Nick Montgomery (4-2) going in the second game. A third game, if needed, means Georgia will start either Nathan Moreau (4-3) or Stephen Dodson (5-4) if he's not called on to pitch long relief in the first game.

"We need to get more out of our starting pitchers," Perno said. "I can't be so quick on the trigger."

Dean Weaver, the team's right-handed setup man, threw 3-2/3 innings on Saturday and probably won't be available today. That leaves Dodson and lefty Alex McRee as the middle men for the first game, with closer Joshua Fields not likely to enter unless it's a save situation.

The bullpen, which earlier this season had a 40-inning scoreless streak, is 3-0 in the CWS with one save and a 4.08 ERA in 17-2/3 innings. The ERA is inflated due to the four runs allowed by Fields in one inning in eliminating Stanford.

The offense continues to be paced by leadoff hitter Ryan Peisel, who Saturday became only the fifth player in Georgia history to get 100 hits in a season. The senior from Marietta's Lassiter High is 7-for-14 with two homers and seven RBIs in the CWS.

At 6 feet 3, 205 pounds, Peisel isn't a prototypical leadoff man. Perno used him there for the final 21 games of the 2007 season and Peisel hit .374. Earlier this season, Perno tried using Peisel, the Colorado Rockies' 12th-round draft choice, deeper in the lineup to get more speed at the top of the order, but soon realized his mistake.

Peisel is hitting .342 with 15 homers and 71 RBIs, second on the team behind All-American Gordon Beckham in each category.

"He gives you good at-bats, he gives you some power, and he hits for a good average," Perno said. "He's been as good a leadoff hitter as we've had in a long time."

Go Dawgs! Sic 'em!


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