The Diamond Dawgs roll into their first SEC series of the year against the Alabama Crimson Tide, which begins on Friday afternoon. Georgia is fresh off of an extremely hot start to the season and a 2 game sweep over rival Georgia Southern. The Tide comes in at 13-5, but they have some problems. After dropping a game on the road against Birmingham Southern on Wednesday night, UA has to be wondering whether or not they can win a game away from Tuscaloosa. Alabama has lost 4 of the 5 games they've played out of the friendly confines of Sewell-Thomas Stadium. That weakness will certainly be something that the Bulldogs will try to capitalize upon this weekend.
Alabama has had serious problems hitting the baseball so far in 2004. They rank 11th in the SEC in batting with a .289 average, and that happens to be a full 28pts lower than the league average. Georgia has been the exact opposite to this point in the year as they hit .351 as a team, and trump the Tide in almost every offensive category. Seven everyday Bulldog starters are batting .333 or better, and the best of them all is freshman Josh Morris. Morris leads the team with a .491 average and his 9 homers and 1.158 slugging percentage are something that the UGA lineup has not seen in quite some time. He and fellow freshman Joey Side are pacing the offense, and relying upon youthful underclassmen is never something that's completely comfortable. Their continued success will be to crucial to the Dawgs chances in SEC play.
Pitching has been the lone reason Alabama has had any success so far this season. The Crimson Tide are 4th in the conference in ERA, and opponents are only batting a measly .200 against Tide pitching. The Bulldogs on the other hand have struggled. Georgia pitchers have an ERA a full 1.24 points higher than UA, and opponents have racked up a .240 average against them this season which is good for 8th in the league. UGA will send Senior Paul Lubrano to the mound on Friday and follow him up with Sophomore Michael Hyle and Junior Sean Ruthven. Alabama will counter with a staff that includes SEC pitcher of the week Brandon Belcher who has compiled a 2-1 record and a 2.0 ERA to begin 2004. The Georgia hitters will certainly have their work cut out for them, while the Dawg pitchers will head to the mound with a lot still to prove .
This is the classic contrast of styles that you see so much in baseball. One team relies on pitching and defense, while the other relies on offense and timely hitting. Whichever squad can compound upon the things they already do well, while improving upon the areas they struggle, will come away with a winning record to start the SEC schedule. With the Tide still trying to find their niche on the road, this is a series that the Dawgs should be able to win, and an opportunity that they can ill afford to let pass.
Should be an interesting weekend in Athens. Get out to Foley Field and support the Diamond Dawgs!
Georgia Baseball begins SEC Play
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