Baseball starts fall practice in a month

ATHENS - The Georgia Bulldog baseball team will begin practice in exactly a month as the 2005 fall semester got underway here Thursday. Fall baseball practice at Foley Field will begin Sept. 18 while the team's World Series is scheduled to start Oct. 17th. A "World Series" preview is scheduled tentatively for Oct. 3.

On Thursday, Georgia welcomed a talented recruiting class to campus including four who were teammates on the 2005 Connie Mack World Series Champion East Cobb Yankees. Shortstop Gordon Beckham, who was named the tournament Most Valuable Player, pitchers Trevor Holder, Ben Jeffers and Brent Hallman, helped lead East Cobb to the title which was held in Farmington, New Mexico this past weekend. While three other members of the recruiting class opted to turn pro after going in the first four rounds, 6-4, 220-pound pitcher/first baseman Iain Sebastian of Columbus, a 29th-round selection of the Pittsburgh Pirates, is now a Bulldog. Also, Georgia has one Division I transfer in sophomore infielder Ryan Peisel. A 6-3, 205-pound native of Marietta, he played at East Carolina last season where he batted .306-4-31.

Georgia returns its top six hitters off the 2005 squad but only five of the 12 pitchers who saw action a year ago after five hurlers signed professional contracts following the season. Georgia's veteran position players back include senior outfielders Kyle Keen (.320-0-17), Bobby Felmy (.307-6-31) and junior Joey Side (.289-8-38) plus senior catcher Jason Jacobs (.286-637), senior infielder Matthew Dunn (.283-1-11) and junior first baseman Josh Morris (.273-12-45). Additionally, the Bulldogs have junior outfielder Jonathan Wyatt (.256-1-18) and junior third baseman Adam McDaniel (.222-1-9) who started more than 30 games apiece last year.

While a number of Bulldog veterans were involved in summer baseball leagues around the country, Jacobs, Joshua Fields and Clay Whittemore earned distinction for their performance. Jacobs, a senior catcher, helped the Orleans (Mass.) Cardinals to the Cape Cod League title. He hit .250 with four RBI in six playoff games. Fields, a sophomore pitcher, was tabbed "Top Pro Prospect," "Top Relief Pitcher," "Rookie of the Year" and first team All-Northeast Collegiate Baseball League after a dominating summer for the Keene (N.H.) SwampBats. Fields recorded 12 saves with a 1-0 mark and 0.40 ERA in 18 games. In 22.2 innings pitched, he recorded 49 strikeouts and only eight walks. Whittemore, a sophomore catcher, was named a Coastal Plain League All-Star for the Outer Banks (N.C.) Daredevils after batting .264 and ranking among the league leaders with 53 hits. Also of note in the NECBL, senior left-hander Mickey Westphal finished second in the league in ERA at 0.81. He went 5-1 with one save in eight games including six starts for the Holyoke (Mass.) Giants. Morris finished tied for second in the Cape Cod League with six home runs as a member of the Chatham (Mass.) A's.

Head coach David Perno enters his fifth season at the helm, and he has two new members on his staff in assistant head coach Roger Williams (pitching) and recruiting coordinator/hitting coach Doug Sisson. Also, volunteer assistant Jason Eller returns for his fourth season on staff. Williams, formerly with the University of North Carolina, and Sisson, formerly with the Washington Nationals organization, joined the Bulldogs this past summer.

Georgia's pitching staff will have a new look this year. Junior right-hander Brooks Brown (4-2, 5.51 ERA) has the most innings pitched among the returnees. He logged 49 innings last year in 16 appearances. He was Georgia's top starter at the end of last season, going 3-0 with a 2.90 ERA over the last three weeks, beating Vanderbilt, Auburn and #11 Tennessee in Knoxville. These were the first SEC starts of his career. Senior left-hander Rip Warren (1-1, 4.18 ERA, 2 SV) is next at 47.1 innings in 20 relief outings. Westphal went 3-1 with a 2.90 ERA in 31 innings while Fields was 3-1 with a 7.00 ERA in 27 innings of relief. Senior left-hander Jason Fellows pitched 21 innings and went 1-0 with a 4.71 ERA.

The Bulldogs ended 2005 with their third best fielding percentage ever at .969. However offensively, Georgia's .265 team batting average ranked 12th in the SEC while the 4.88 team ERA was 11th. Georgia played one of its most ambitious schedules ever with an SEC-high 27 road games in 2005 going 12-15. The Bulldogs dropped six SEC games when it had leads in the eighth inning or later. However, the Bulldogs played better down the stretch, going 9-9 in their final 18 SEC games including winning series over Auburn, Miss. State and Vanderbilt but ultimately missed qualifying for the SEC Tournament by a half game. Georgia concluded the year 30-25.

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