Georgia Baseball opens season Friday

ATHENS – The preseason hasn't gone as smoothly as Georgia's ninth-ranked baseball team had hoped.

The Bulldogs begin their most anticipated season ever today without starting shortstop Josh Smith (suspension) and preseason All-America closer Will Startup (injury). Georgia plays Elon today at 5:30 p.m. in Foley Field.

Smith will miss the first six games of the year after violating an undisclosed athletic department policy that requires an athlete to forfeit 10 percent of his or her season. The violation did not include any illegal activity, a school representative said, and Smith remains in good standing with the team.

"Oh yeah," Coach David Perno said. "He'll hit two and play short. He's playing great. It's a shame we don't have him, but that's the way it bounces."

Startup, who sprained an ankle during a Friday scrimmage, won't miss as much time. In fact, he should be back just in time for Georgia's Tuesday afternoon game against Mercer.

Until then, Perno said, the Bulldogs will give some of their younger players a chance to prove themselves. Matt Dunn, a junior transfer from Virginia, will take Smith's spot at shortstop. Kyle Keen, Jonathan Wyatt or Justin Niefer will take his spot in the batting order.

"It's a great opportunity for a lot of other guys," Perno said. "Hopefully, they will step up. We don't have time to wait."

Smith and Startup are both captains for the Bulldogs and fellow captain Bobby Felmy said the responsibility to fill their shoes falls to the entire team.

"I wouldn't say the pressure is on our remaining captains," he said. "It's on everybody. It's all 30 guys that play."

Georgia is coming off an appearance in the College World Series, an achievement that earned Perno the promise of a contract extension. Georgia officials announced shortly after last season that they would give him a new deal and a raise, but he only recently received the new offer. He has yet to sign it, although he said he's happy in principle with everything that is in the contract.

"I'm pretty easy to please," he said. "I'm coaching baseball at the place I want to be."

He expects to sign the deal soon, he said, although he declined to be more specific.

"I want to make sure I don't lose any of my focus on what is important, and this team is very important to me right now," he said.

The Bulldog are ranked in the top 10 of all three major collegiate baseball preseason polls for the first time in history. While the true success of their season won't be measured until the SEC schedule starts, the team's 17 games before that time are crucial, Perno said.

"It's huge for us," he said. "We have momentum. We have to go out and play good baseball. It doesn't matter who we play. It's the way we play that matters.

"We want to get to full speed as fast as we can."

Georgia baseball


Today, 5:30 p.m., Foley Field (UGA starter: Sean Ruthven, Sr., RHP, 7-2, 3.41 ERA)*

Saturday, 3 p.m., Foley Field (UGA starter: Michael Hyle, Jr., RHP, 8-2, 2.99 ERA)*

Sunday, 1 p.m., Foley Field (UGA starter: Brooks Brown, So., RHP, 0-0, 10.22 ERA)*

Broadcast: 960-AM

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