Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Athens Banner-Herald: Diamond Dogs' first foe a tough one

Will face Ohio State to open Tallahassee Regional

David Ching

David Perno figured his Georgia baseball team would open NCAA Tournament play somewhere in the Southeast when Clemson, Atlanta and Tallahassee were announced as regional sites on Sunday.

His assumption was proven correct on Monday, when the Bulldogs (37-22) were assigned to meet Ohio State (40-17) in Friday's noon opener at the Tallahassee Regional.

The part he didn't expect was his second-seeded Bulldogs opening against a No. 3 seed as difficult as the Big Ten's regular-season champion Buckeyes, led by the league's Co-Pitcher of the Year in Alex Wimmers.

"It's definitely a challenging first-round game I didn't expect. Ohio State's really good with (Wimmers), I do know that," Perno said of the junior right-hander who is 9-1 with a 2.68 ERA, having held opponents to a .199 batting average. "They've got a really good lead guy in their rotation, so we've got to get to work and get prepared."

This is the first time since 2002 that those preparations will be for a regional away from Foley Field, but Perno said the location will not be a significant factor. For one thing, the short right-field porch at Florida State's Dick Howser Stadium plays into the Bulldog power hitters' hands the same way the 314-foot fence at Foley Field can.

For another, Georgia played as well on the road for most of the year as it did at home. Prior to a late-season swoon that saw the Bulldogs lose seven of their final 12 games away from Foley Field, they were 11-3 at road locations.

They finished 16-10 at road and neutral sites and 21-12 at home.

"Obviously you would like to play at home, but we've done well at neutral sites and on the road," Perno said. "I think it kind of fits this team. Less distractions."

The Bulldogs also believe their prior tournament experience can be a major factor as they prepare for another postseason run. Many of Georgia's seniors are preparing for their third postseason, which already includes two College World Series appearances.

Despite a disappointing conclusion to the regular season, which saw Georgia fall from being the nation's No. 1-ranked team to failing to host a regional by losing nine of its last 14 games, the Bulldogs know their wealth of tournament experience can be beneficial.

"Personally and with the team, it's been a tough month in general," Georgia first baseman Rich Poythress said. "We're all back to 0-0 and we're excited to have this opportunity, knowing we're five or six wins away from Omaha just like 63 other teams."

Georgia last visited Tallahassee in 2008, when the Bulldogs and Florida State split a two-game series in early March. The Seminoles (42-16) will open against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament champ Marist (31-26) at 4 p.m. in Friday's other regional game.

And if postseason experience is truly an asset, Florida State has as much as almost any program in the country. The Seminoles are making their 32nd consecutive postseason appearance, the last 30 of which have come under coach Mike Martin.

Georgia and Florida State have met six times in the postseason, with the Bulldogs owning a 4-2 record. If both teams win their Friday openers, they would meet Saturday at 4 p.m.

The double-elimination regional could run through Monday, when an if-necessary game to settle the region championship would be played at 7 p.m. All Tallahassee Regional games will be televised on ESPNU, with games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday scheduled for either noon or 4 p.m. starts.

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