NCAA Regional Preview

The Georgia baseball program surprisingly snuck into the NCAA tournament field of 64 with a #2 seed in the Atlanta regional. <b>Josh Jones</b> takes a look at the upcoming regional.

The Dawgs slipped into the tournament despite losing seven straight games and being eliminated in two games from the SEC tournament by Ron Polk's Mississippi State team, which did not make the tournament. Coach Perno attributed Georgia's selection to a difficult schedule and a strong RPI ranking. Because the RPI ranking used by the selection committee remains private, we do not know where Georgia was actually ranked. An SEC East team always plays an inherently difficult conference schedule, which, coupled with match-ups against top-10 powers UNC, Georgia Tech, and Clemson, likely was a big factor for the selection committee. Certainly, Georgia's tournament run last year was probably a factor, as was the potential regional match-up with rival Georgia Tech. The NCAA gets a split of gate revenue, and having Georgia and Tech involved in virtually every game of the Atlanta regional does not hurt gate revenue. The selection committee makes a conscious effort to create intra-regional, and where possible intra-state, match-ups in the tournament. Coach Polk's past acrimonious relationship with the NCAA might have also been a factor in Georgia getting the nod over the Maroon Dogs.

At any rate, Georgia should feel very fortunate still to be playing, particularly considering that they were one conference loss from not being in the SEC tournament at all and suffering the same fate as a good Ole Miss team this year. Georgia, at 30-27, also can take solace in the fact that it does not have the worst record among tournament teams. Harvard (20-24) and Navy (22-23) were included in the tournament field by virtue of winning their respective conferences. Jim Morris's Miami squad also got into the tournament field despite a mediocre 30-26 record for many of the same reasons that Georgia made the tournament. Arkansas also made the field with a shaky 31-26 record.

With the exception of Louisville, the Atlanta regional is identical to the Athens regional last year. The Dawgs open up with Louisville, the #3 seed in the regional, on Friday at 3 p.m. in Russ Candler Stadium. Tickets to the game are $10 for reserved seats or $7 for general admission seats. Louisville (36-19) makes its first ever tournament appearance after getting an at-large bid as a member of Conference USA. The Cardinal is led offensively by sophomore OF Mark Jurich, who is hitting .366 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI. Jurich, 1B Morgan Bojorques (.307-14-60), and 3B Mike Budak (.274-11-44) give the Cardinal a nice set of power hitters in the middle of their lineup. They are not a particularly fast team, but Dave Williams (.315-1-20) will steal a base occasionally. He has ten steals in twelve tries this year. Louisville has yet to announce its starting pitcher, but it could go with either Carlos Fernandez (3-3, 3.63), Mike Tisdale (5-1, 3.90), Zach Jackson (10-2, 4.60), or Scott Barber (4-5, 4.86).

Coastal Carolina comes into the Atlanta regional with a #4 seed after finishing 43-17 and winning its second straight Big South championship. The Chanticleers, who are probably the dark horses in the regional, are led by senior OF Justin Owens (.422-11-58) and junior SS Adam Keim (.357-15-64) offensively. Coastal is a team that likes to run. OF Ryan McGraw (.384-5-43) has 61 stolen bases in 67 tries this year. Owens also has 30 in 33 tries. In all, the team has stolen an eye-popping 182 bases in 211 tries. On the mound, the Chanticleers have four starters with an ERA under 4.00: Justin Sturge (6-2, 2.72), Steven Carter (11-4, 2.85), Brian Fischer (7-4, 3.39), and Seamus Donovan (8-3, 3.48). Keim is also their regular closer, with a 2.70 ERA and seven saves. Coastal plays Georgia Tech on Friday. Coastal and Tech have played once before this season, with Tech winning back on February 22, 2-1.

The host team in the regional should need no introduction to Georgia. Georgia Tech, at 46-14, is ranked ninth in the nation by USA Today and Collegiate Baseball magazine. The Jackets took three of four games from Georgia this year. The Dawgs eliminated Tech from the Athens regional last year, and Tech would like nothing better than to return the favor this year. The Jackets are led offensively by senior SS Victor Menocal (.362-1-44), freshman OF Eric Patterson (.354-3-33), senior 2B Matthew Boggs (.351-1-37), freshman OF Jeremy Slayden (.344-17-56), junior 1B Jason Perry (.312-11-53), junior C Tyler Parker (.318-9-54), and sophomore OF Matt Murton (.350-10-53). Opponents will try to keep the speedy Patterson and Murton off the bases, as they have stolen 20 and 36 bases this year, respectively. On the mound, Tech's top starter is Kyle Bakker (10-2, 3.66). Brian Burks (9-6, 3.97), Kyle Schmidt (5-2, 3.75), and Jeff Watchko (11-1, 3.16) could also see tournament starting time for Tech. They are a very deep pitching staff and well-suited for tournament play. If the game is on the line, Coach Hall has been using Menocal occasionally out of the pen. He has two saves and a 0.96 ERA. On paper, the regional should belong to Tech. But Coastal Carolina could sneak in and surprise everyone. One should also not count out a team that has been given a second life, as Georgia has.

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