June 23, 2008


Twists and Turns to the Title Series

Perno, Georgia await Championship Series opponent 


By Phil Stanton



OMAHA, Neb. – How do you take a team from 23-33 one year to the Championship Series of the College World Series the next season?


That’s the journey which head coach David Perno and the Georgia Bulldogs have taken from 2007 to 2008.


And that journey has taken many turns.


“The turning point was at season’s end for me,” Perno said. “It wasn’t going to be like that.”


The Bulldogs thought they were going to lose All-American closer Joshua Fields, who was taken in the second round of the 2007 major league draft by the Atlanta Braves. But Fields chose to return to Athens for his senior campaign, making a solid team that much stronger.


“When we go through the draft last year in June,” Perno said, “we counted him out, but we still felt good about the team coming back. Gordon [Beckham], I just had a feeling he was going to put everything together. Any time you’ve got the best shortstop in the country you’re going to be pretty good. We had the pieces, and when Josh decided to come back, I was like ‘We better be good’ or I might not have a job. Fortunately we did a nice job and really banded together with the leadership. It wasn’t so much the leadership as it was the performance from those guys that were expected to lead. I demanded the performance. Go out and have your best year. That’s what the experiences are for.”


Fields is perfect in 17 save attempts. Beckham also had an All-American season, batting .403 with 26 home runs and 72 RBI.


When did Perno feel he team could be special?


“Probably the turning point from this season was the Arizona game opening night,” Perno said. “We showed we had some grit, some flair and showed that Josh was back. Then I knew it was a matter of time before we put everything together.”


The Bulldogs scored four in the first and never trailed against the top-ranked Wildcats. Fields had two hits as the DH, including a home run, and fanned the side in the ninth as Georgia posted a 9-7 win.


Georgia was 6-6 when it opened SEC play at Arkansas. The Bulldogs dropped their conference opener to the No. 21 Razorbacks 5-1.


“That Saturday game at Arkansas gave us the lift we needed to win the SEC. That was a huge comeback. We were down 10-1 in the [sixth] and we come back and win that. We felt like we were the team to beat in league.”


Georgia scored four in the sixth, seven in the seventh, one in the eighth and two in the ninth to claim a 15-11 win. The Bulldogs went 23-5-1 over their next 29 contests.


The Bulldogs won the regular-season SEC title, but went 0-2 in the SEC Tournament. Georgia dropped a 10-7 decision to fourth-seeded Lipscomb in the opener of the Athens Regional. The Bulldogs trailed Louisville 5-2 in the seventh of the second game and it looked like the tremendous season could be coming to an end.


“When we got to the regional,” Perno said, “in Game 1, we rested Trevor [Holder] and went with Stephen Dodson and we just didn’t pitch real well. We scored four in the first and I thought ‘All right, here we go, we’re back’. We had eight days off and I said the layoff didn’t bother us. But we couldn’t stop them. After that point, it was the home run on Saturday in Game 2 of the regional against Louisville. Gordon hit it. When he lifted that ball out of there, it freed him up and everybody else was a whole lot more confident.”


Beckham’s three-run homer tied the game at 5-5 and ignited a seven-run rally that propelled Georgia past Louisville 9-8. The Bulldogs then beat Lipscomb and twice topped Georgia Tech to claim the regional crown.


Georgia then won two of three at home against NC State to win the super regional and return to the College World Series.


Two seasons ago, the Bulldogs went 0-2 in Omaha and didn’t feel like they were there long enough. They trailed No. 1 Miami 4-3 heading to the top of the ninth in their CWS opener, but took advantage of a throwing error to rally for four in their final at-bat to take a 7-4 win, their first of three victories to win Bracket One.


“We got fortunate in Game 1,” Perno said. “Game 1 was the turning point. That ball went down that right field corner. I think we rallied off that.”


All those turns have taken Georgia to the Championship Series, to face either Fresno State or North Carolina for the national title.


“We beat some good teams in three-game sets all year long,” Perno said. “We need to find a way to win one more series. We’ve gone with that mantra all year: It doesn’t matter who or where, it’s how we do our business. If we don’t play well, they’re going to beat us. It’s that simple.”