June 7, 2008

2008 Super Regionals

Bulldogs Buck Trend

Georgia roughs up NC State to Take Opener


By Tyler Estep
The Red & Black

Tyler Estep is a senior journalism student and the University of Georgia and a senior sportswriter/former sports editor at The Red & Black. He's one of the biggest Braves fans on the planet, and his dream job would be to cover them for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has no (successful) history of actually playing sports, but, hey, that's why he's a writer.


ATHENS, Ga. - Modus operandi be damned.


An 11-4 win by Georgia over N.C. State in the first game of the Athens Super Regional Friday turned a number of Bulldog and Wolfpack trends on their heads.

The typically dominant Wolfpack pitching faltered in two big innings for the Bulldogs, and, after losing the first game of its Regional and fighting all the way back to the championship, Georgia's first-game win was news in itself.

"I guess it is [a foreign feeling]," said Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham, who was drafted eighth overall by the White Sox Thursday, of being ahead. "But I was talking to Coach, and we can't be complacent tomorrow. We've got to win, and we've got to go out there and take it from them."

Wolfpack starter Clayton Shunick (a sixth-round pick of the Giants) came into Friday's game with a diminutive 2.16 ERA and faced only three Bulldogs in four of the six innings he pitched in. It was the other two that were the problem.

After a pair of solo homers from Drew Martin and Ryan Pond (2 for 5) put State (41-21) ahead 2-0 in the third, Shunick faltered in the bottom of the inning. The transfer from Georgia State allowed the first two Bulldogs to reach base before two-out RBI hits from senior Matt Olson, Beckham and first baseman Rich Poythress put Georgia on top at 4-2.

It was much of the same in the sixth, with a leadoff walk becoming the catapult for a five-run Bulldogs inning.

"Whenever you get the first guy on, it's never good, it's usually how big innings start," said Shunick, whose eight runs are the most he's allowed since he's been at N.C. State. "They're a good hitting team, and when you make mistakes, they're going to take advantage. We've just got to come out tomorrow and win two, and hopefully this game won't even matter."

The Bulldogs (40-22-1) were led from the mound by Trevor Holder, who tossed a career-high 8.2 innings with five strikeouts and two earned runs. Holder was the regular Friday starter for the Bulldogs during conference play but hadn't taken the mound in the opening game of Georgia's last two tournaments – both losses.

"We went to Birmingham [for the SEC Tournament], and lost Game 1. We started the Regional last week, and lost Game 1," Georgia coach Dave Perno said. "Looking at myself, Trevor's the only guy in seven years that I've put in the Friday slot and kept there the whole season. You've got to have your best pitcher out there for Game 1."

Holder, a Birmingham, Ala. native, was picked in the 10th round of the draft during Friday's game, but he didn't know the Marlins had selected him until after the game.

"I guess nobody wanted to mess with the vibe," he said, smiling. "I'm in the zone and trying to pitch, and nobody wanted to tell me when I got drafted."

The Second-Team All-SEC performer was pulled one out away from a complete game after he walked two straight batters. With heat hovering in the mid-90s and a pitch count of 125, sophomore Justin Earls replaced Holder and recorded the final out on a foul pop.

Perno said he was ready to pull Holder earlier, but he had some lobbyists pushing him the other way.

"He wanted to go, and he's got his cronies here pushing me and driving me after the eighth," he said, chuckling. "We were ready to pull him after seven, but we got those runs in the bottom of the eighth, and we thought he could do it. I was very happy he pushed as hard as he did."

Things looked dismal during Georgia's first-game Regional loss and for the first six innings of the next game. But a three-run Beckham homer in the seventh launched the offensive onslaught that the Bulldogs have been looking for all season - they've scored 51 runs in the four games since.

"It's just a combination of the things we've been doing all year that are starting to come together, because guys have 200 at-bats and they've seen pretty much everything," Perno said. "They've seen superstars, they've seen aces, they've seen guys that throw left-handed, right-handed, changeups, split fingers, sliders. They've got a good feel in there. They've got confidence and they've feeding off each other."

Saturday's Game 2 will be at noon on ESPN2.