The Georgia baseball team could have given itself a big-time boost with a series win against Alabama last weekend to clinch a winning conference record.
Georgia starter Alex Wood throw to the plate during the NCAA college baseball game in Athens, Ga., Friday, April 13, 2012.
But the Bulldogs dropped the series and go to the Southeastern Conference Tournament trying to put the bad memories of losing two of three to the SEC’s worst team behind them.
“Tournament-wise, the way it ended up we would have finished eighth even if we won the series on Saturday,” Georgia left-hander Alex Wood said. “So that made us feel a little bit better, or at least as well as you could feel after a loss. Seeding-wise, I think that hurts us a little bit losing that series. But if we take care of business and win two or three games here in the tournament, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Arkansas swept their weekend series to move past the Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament seedings. But Georgia’s credentials for getting at least an at-large bid to the NCAA regionals seem solid. The Bulldogs have a winning overall record and made the SEC Tournament, which has historically been enough to earn an NCAA invitation.
“It would have been huge to win the series this weekend,” Georgia third baseman Curt Powell said. “But you can’t really dwell on that too long. We’ve got Wood going in Game 1 and we’ve always got confidence that Wood will get us going. If we can get this first game out of the way, we can start grinding it out and things will start going our way.”
Eighth-seeded Georgia (31-24) will open the SEC Tournament Tuesday against No. 5-seeded Vanderbilt (29-25) in the second game of the evening session at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala. No. 3 seed Florida (40-16) will play No. 10 seed Auburn (30-26) in the first game of the evening session at 5:30 p.m. The Georgia-Vanderbilt game will start 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Florida-Auburn game. Both evening session games will be televised on CSS.
“We always feel like we’ve got our backs against the wall a little bit,” Wood said. “We feel like we’ve got a little chip on our shoulder and hopefully we’ll be able to do some good things like we did last year in the SEC Tournament. We’ve been through this the last two years. We know how to handle it and we know how to take care of our spot postseason wise. We’re just excited for the opportunity.”
Last year Georgia won three straight elimination games in the SEC Tournament to clinch an above-.500 overall record and a spot in the NCAA regionals. Two of those wins came against the eventual College World Series finalists Florida and South Carolina .
“I have no idea about regionals,” Powell said. “I think our whole idea as a team is that Georgia has never won this tournament. We want to go in and get the first win for Georgia and get an automatic spot in regionals.”
Georgia will start Wood (7-2, 2.58 ERA) against Vanderbilt right-hander Drew VerHagen (5-2, 3.63) Tuesday. Georgia’s second-day starter will be right-hander Michael Palazzone (2-6, 4.89).
Georgia has been playing well before going to Alabama. The Bulldogs had won six of eight and took the first game of the series against the Crimson Tide. But Georgia ended the regular season by losing two straight at Alabama, which robbed some of the Bulldogs’ late-season momentum.
“We knew last week that we could be anywhere from a No. 5 to a No. 10 seed because we’re all bunched together as far as our SEC records,” Georgia coach David Perno said. “We’ve played well of late. We’ve just been a little short in the run category. We’re throwing strikes and taking care of the baseball. We feel good with Alex going on Tuesday and he’s been as good as anybody we’ve played.”
Vanderbilt might be the toughest possible first-round matchup for Georgia. The Commodores took two of three from Georgia in March at Vanderbilt. The Commodores have won eight of its last 11 against Georgia , including a 10-0 victory to open the SEC Tournament last year.
“We definitely owe them one from the sheer factor of what they did to us last year in the opening round of the tournament,” Wood said. “Then they came back and got two late-inning wins against us earlier in the year. We definitely owe them a little something. That just makes it more exciting to draw them in the first round.”
Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament
At Region’s Park, Hoover , Ala.
All times Eastern
Game 1: Kentucky vs. Ole Miss, 10:30 a.m.
Game 2: Arkansas vs. Mississippi State , 30 minutes after Game 1.
Game 3: Florida vs. Auburn , 5:30 p.m.
Game 4: Vanderbilt vs. Georgia , 30 minutes after Game 3.
Game 5: Loser Game 1 vs. loser Game 2, 10:30 a.m.
Game 6: LSU vs. lowest seed from Games 1 and 2, 30 minutes after Game 5
Game 7: Loser Game 3 vs. loser Game 4, 5:30 p.m.
Game 8: South Carolina vs. Games 3 and 4 low-seed winner, 30 minutes after Game 3.
Game 9: Loser Game 6 vs. winner Game 5, 10:30 a.m.
Game 10: Game 1-2 top-seed winner vs. winner Game 6, 30 minutes after Game 9.
Game 11: Loser Game 8 vs. winner Game 7, 5:30 p.m.
Game 12: Game 3-4 top seed vs. winner Game 8, 30 minutes after Game 11.
Game 13: Loser Game 10 vs. winner Game 9, 4 p.m.
Game 14: Loser Game 12 vs. winner Game 11, 30 minutes after Game 13.
Game 15: Winner Game 10 vs. winner Game 13, 1 p.m.
Game 16: Winner Game 12 vs. winner Game 14, 30 minutes after Game 15.
Game 17: Winner Game 15 vs. winner Game 16, 3:30 p.m.