In the 14 years Lu Harris-Champer has coached the Georgia softball team, the Bulldogs have scaled great heights, including several Southeastern Conference championships, untold NCAA Regional and Super Regional triumphs and a pair of appearances in the Women’s College World Series.
Last Saturday, the No. 7 Bulldogs added another key accomplishment to their already-long list, something that had not happened before in program history. Georgia won its first SEC tournament championship, defeating No. 6 Florida, No. 5 Alabama and No. 14 Kentucky in Columbia, S.C., to claim the title.
“Our chemistry has been great this year, so to go out and get the job done was a huge accomplishment and a big thing for the Georgia softball program,” sophomore Geri Ann Glasco, who was 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs in the conference finals against Kentucky. “It’s great to be on a team that can say we made history for the University of Georgia.”
“It’s hard to describe the feeling — we finally did it,” added Anna Swafford, one of only six upperclassmen on the team. “Winning the SEC tournament was our first goal from the beginning of the year and we conquered it and now it’s time to focus on the postseason.”
The postseason is a familiar destination for Georgia (45-12), which is making its 13th consecutive NCAA appearance. The Bulldogs, who earned the No. 4 seed in the 64-team tournament, hosts the Athens Regional, starting today at the Jack Turner Softball Complex.
In today’s 2:30 p.m. opener, UAB (31-25) and N.C. State (34-16) will square off with Georgia — one of 11 SEC teams making the tournament — meeting Chattanooga at 5:30 p.m. There are three games set for Saturday at noon, 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., and the regional finals are set for noon Sunday, with a game set for 2:30 p.m. if necessary.
It’s worth noting that the Bulldogs are 33-4 at home this spring, and it’s also worth noting that one of the games they lost was to UAB, which went 1-1 with Georgia in March at the Bulldog Invitational. Players are well aware that records mean little between the white lines.
“The postseason is the most exciting time of the year,” sophomore pitcher Chelsea Wilkinson (29-7, 2.04 ERA), who has been named the NFCA’s Player of the Week two weeks running, said. “We know that if you don’t win, you go home. So we’re out here competing each and every game, one pitch at a time and one at-bat at a time.”
In terms of program achievements, the last unrealized goal is winning the WCWS and laying claim to the national championship. Georgia players figure they’ve already broken down one barrier this season – why not go for two?
“After we won the conference tournament, I thought, ‘Wow, we’ve got a shot at this,’” said Swafford , who’s hitting .327 with 10 home runs and 23 RBIs. “If we stay hot and stay together, we’ve got a good chance. We won the conference tournament for the first time, why not win the College World Series for the first time?”
“Who wouldn’t feel like that if you win the SEC, because the SEC is the best conference in the country in softball?” said Glasco, who comes into the regional hitting .298 with eight home runs and 59 RBIs. “We have to know that if we can win the SEC, and we can beat Alabama, beat Florida and beat Kentucky, that we can play with anyone in the country. If we play our game and take care of ourselves, we can beat them.”
Winners of seven of their last eight games and secure at home, where they’re sure to play before a decidedly partisan audience, the Bulldogs appear to be hitting their stride at just the right time.
“We still haven’t played our best game,” Glasco said. “We’ve got some people in the lineup who we believe are going to get hot for us here at the end, and once all of our bats are hot, it’s going to be a nightmare for the other team. I can’t wait to see what happens.”