Athens Super Regional: News and Notes

ATHENS – A year ago at this time, Georgia baseball coach David Perno didn't have any assistant coaches. Now, he has two of the best in the country in his opinion. "Last year at this time is probably as low as our program was perception-wise," Perno said.

"We didn't have two assistants. We were sitting there off a season we didn't even go to Birmingham and to get the two assistants we got… To turn it around so quickly, it's a credit to those guys."

The most dramatic difference for the Bulldogs has been in their hitting, which is now under the instruction of Doug Sisson, who gave up a longtime career as a minor league manager and hitting coach to replace Don Norris.

"I think he's the best assistant coach in the country," Perno said.

Georgia is second in the conference in hitting this year with a .310 average and 74 home runs. Last year, the Bulldogs finished last in the league with a .265 average.

"Our hitting coach now is just so much better," said center fielder Joey Side. "He knows exactly what he's talking about. Last year, everything we were doing was out on our front foot, and that's not the way you should approach it. Now we're back on our back foot, and everybody feels so much more comfortable at the plate."

The Bulldogs also are very comfortable with their pitching, which this year is in the hands of longtime college assistant Roger Williams. Although, Georgia is just 10th in the SEC in 4.64 ERA, it has developed a tremendous amount of depth in the last two months.

Perno isn't sure the Bulldogs would have survived last week's Regional without Williams, who spent 11 years as an assistant coach at North Carolina before coming to Athens. That experience with the ACC was invaluable in getting Georgia's pitchers ready in back-to-back elimination games against Florida State, Perno said.

"We ran freshmen (pitchers) out there, and we basically shut them down," Perno said. "I can't honestly say we'd do that without Roger Williams."

ALMOST THERE: Mickey Westphal, Georgia's starting pitcher today in the biggest of the season, is a senior, but he wasn't around when the Diamond Dogs advanced to the 2004 College World Series. He was at home watching on his sofa, recovering from shoulder surgery that cut that season short.

"They turned (that season) around when I left," Westphal said.

Now, he can be instrumental in a return trip. Westphal (7-1, 4.45 ERA), a left-hander, will face off against South Carolina's Harris Honeycutt (6-0, 2.88 ERA) today at 11 a.m.

"This is a long time coming," Westphal said. "It was a long surgery and a long process, but it's going to push me a little more this weekend."

Westphal pitched 6 1/3 innings against South Carolina on May 5, giving up four runs on 10 hits and picking up his fifth win of the season. After that game, he notched a win against Auburn and then went into a slump that didn't end until last week's NCAA Regional, when he pitched a complete game against overmatched Sacred Heart.

That start may have saved Westphal's place in the rotation for this weekend.

"It helped my confidence, and it helped the coaches' confidence in me," he said.

Honeycutt is right-handed sophomore who hasn't pitched in any of the previous four games against Georgia.

OLD DOG: Senior outfield Kyle Keen, whose season seemingly was over after a back injury suffered in an early SEC series against Arkansas, is back in the lineup. Keen will see extensive action at designated hitter against South Carolina, Perno said, pushing sophomore Matt Olson to the bench.

Keen has hit the ball better in the last two weeks, but it's his experience as much as anything that Perno wants on the field.

"He's been here too long (to not play)," Perno said. "He's got a lot to offer."

THIS AND THAT: The Bulldogs are in the middle of the pack among NCAA Tournament teams in batting and pitching in the tournament. Georgia is 26th of 64 teams with a .301 average and 19th in pitching with a 3.40 ERA. … Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham (.294 average, 12 HRs, 52 RBIs) and pitcher Nathan Moreau (8-1, 5.37 ERA) were named to Collegiate Baseball's freshman All-America team this week. … Standing room only tickets for today's game will go on sale today at Foley Field at 9 a.m.

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