Dawgs Turning the Corner

ATHENS – On Saturday, Georgia will begin its fifth College World Series appearance in just seven overall trips to the NCAA Tournament. If head coach David Perno has his way, that staggering success percentage will go down in the years to come. Yes, down.

Perno is proud of his team's record of cashing in when it has the chance, but knows that having only seven all-time NCAA appearances says as much about the Bulldog baseball program as its five trips to the title event.

"The thing about that is the lack of tradition our program has compared to a lot of the teams we play," he said. "When we do get things together, and we start building a tradition, I don't think, and you hate to say it, but I don't think you'll see us go as often because we'll be in the mix (more)."

Georgia, the national No. 7 seed, will play second-seeded Rice (55-11) on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb. Junior left-hander Brooks Brown (8-4, 4.10 ERA) will start that game for the Bulldogs, Perno said Wednesday.

This will be Georgia's second CWS trip in the last three seasons, marking the first time the program has accomplished that and making the Bulldogs the only SEC team which can say that. Only four Georgia teams in history have won 45 or more games, the 2004 CWS team (45-23) and this year's team (47-21).

"Have we turned the corner as a program? You would like to think so," Perno said.

To officialy proclaim a turnaround, though, the Bulldogs will have to avoid seasons like 2003, when they finished 10 games under .500 in the SEC, and 2005, when they followed a College World Series season by missing the postseason entirely.

"There's no excuse for this program not to make the postseason any year," senior relief pitcher Rip Warren said. "High school baseball in the state of Georgia is tremendous. This is a great university with great facilities and the best conference in college baseball. I hope this team continues to do some of the things we've done this year and in '04."

Georgia's success may have snuck up on some people. In 2004, closer Will Startup was dubbed the "Magic Man," suggesting maybe that the team made its postseason run on smoke and mirrors. This season, a tremendous amount of attention has been paid to Georgia's 8-1 record in elimination games, another subtle hint that the team is more lucky than good.

It's a suggestion that irks Perno.

"We've played really good baseball," he said. "Our fielding percentage has gone up. Offensively, we're balanced. We can get you at the top, we can get you in the middle, we can get you at the bottom. And, for the most part, our starting pitching has been good, and the most important ingredient has been the finish, the ability to finish the game with Rip and Joshua (Fields)."

South Carolina coach Ray Tanner, whose team was eliminated by Georgia on Monday, is a believer in the Bulldogs, and thinks they could make a CWS run.

"I'll tell you," he said, "I like Georgia. I like the way they're playing right now."

NOTE: The Bulldogs flew out of Atlanta on Wednesday night on their way to Omaha.

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