CWS: Dawgs' starting pitching the key

******************************** Don't Miss the Best Coverage of Georgia at the CWS on Dawg ******************************** ATHENS – South Carolina baseball coach Ray Tanner knows plenty about the College World Series. He took the Gamecocks their three straight years from 2002 to 2004.

He thinks the key for Georgia to have success in this year's event is its somewhat erratic starting pitching. There certainly aren't any concerns about the bullpen.

"(The starters) don't have to throw scoreless innings," Tanner said. "They have to keep it close and turn it over to those guys who are lights out."

That would be setup man Rip Warren and closer Joshua Fields. The seventh-seeded Bulldogs (47-21) start the College World Series today against second-seeded Rice (55-11) in a 2 p.m. game, and the biggest reason Georgia has confidence it can win the event is those two relief pitchers.

"Well, not every time it's lights out," Fields said, "but the Lord has blessed us this year with being pretty successful in the back of the bullpen."

The Bulldogs are 40-1 when leading after six innings and 40-0 when leading after seven this season. The reason is Warren and Fields, who have the lowest ERAs of any Georgia regulars in a combined 65 appearances.

Warren, a senior left-hander, is 8-2 with a 2.78 ERA after starting three games and then being moved to the bullpen. In this NCAA Tournament, he leads Georgia with a .087 ERA.

Fields, a sophomore right-hander, was the SEC's top closer this year and was named a third-team All-American this week. He tied the school record with 15 saves while amassing a 3-2 record and 1.88 ERA this season.

"I have a lot of confidence in him," Warren said of Fields. "He has a lot of confidence in me, and we have a lot of confidence in ourselves when we go out there on the mound."

Warren's and Fields' success this year has essentially allowed Georgia to shorten its opponents' games to six innings, Coach David Perno said.

"The most important ingredient for us has been the ability to finish the game with Rip and Joshua," he said. "We've just got to get a (starter) who can get us through five innings. We're going to be as good as anybody six through nine."

Fields has been a standout since he stepped on campus. He was ranked the country's 36th best high school prospect by Baseball America during his senior season at Prince Avenue Christian School, and he was named to the SEC's All-Freshman team for his work on the mound and at the plate. (He has given up hitting this year, but he batted .566 in his final two high school seasons.)

"There is not a better closer in college baseball than that guy, and that helps me so much knowing that if I just go out there and do my job, I don't have to do too much," Warren said. "He's going to lock it down."

Fields almost certainly will be the first Bulldog selected in next year's Major League draft, but he remains one of the team's most low-key players publicly.

"I think I have one of the easiest jobs on the team," he said. "I just have to come in there and get three outs. I think Rip and the starters have the hard part."

Warren took a little time to develop. He worked in spot duty as a freshman and sophomore before blossoming last year, when he threw 471/3 innings and still led the team with 65 strikeouts.

Perno hopes the reputation of Warren and Fields spreads quickly in Omaha, Neb., the traditional home of the CWS. Teams who know how good the duo can be tend to put pressure on themselves early in games to make things happen, he said.

"I could see South Carolina, when we took that one run lead (in Monday's game), you could feel their dugout losing a little bit of confidence because they knew Rip was down in that bullpen," he said. "Our ability to make it a six-inning game has been the key to our success."

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