Dawgs Return from Omaha

ATHENS – While college sports fans around the country pondered Thursday whether Fresno State has become the biggest Cinderella story in NCAA history, Georgia's disappointed baseball team arrived home quietly to a group of about 50 well-wishers outside Foley Field.

Seventeen hours after the Bulldogs lost 6-1 to Fresno State in the final game of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., Georgia head coach David Perno still was having a tough time accepting the loss.

"I thought it was our time," Perno said. "I felt like we'd been there four times in the 2000s (2001, 2004, 2006, 2008). Not many teams have done that, and the teams that have, have won their national championship. I felt like it was our time."

It looked that way after Georgia won Game 1 of the three-game series on Monday night and then took a 5-0 lead in Game 2 on Tuesday night.

"That's what's probably going to eat at us for a while," Perno said.

Georgia (45-25-1) was the tournament's No. 8 national seed, while the Fresno State Bulldogs were the No. 4 seed in their regional, making them the equivalent of a No. 13 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament. The West Coast Bulldogs (47-31) became the lowest seeded team ever to claim an NCAA title and became media darlings along the way.

Perno's Bulldogs arrived back in Athens at 3 p.m. Thursday, and the team's two buses received a quiet ovation as they pulled to a stop past the Foley Field fence. A group of mostly family and friends greeted the players with cameras and hugs.

"It's been one heck of a ride for this whole team," senior third baseman Ryan Peisel said. "I couldn't have asked for more. All season long it has been incredible. I can't say enough good things about these guys. Just because we came up short, I'm not going to judge our season on that. It's just one of those things that you never wanted it to end."

While Georgia couldn't match its 1990 national title, the Bulldogs had a memorable season in other ways. They became the first SEC team to sweep the conference's three main awards (SEC player of the year, Gordon Beckham; SEC pitcher of the year, Joshua Fields, and SEC coach of the year, Perno.)

Beckham finished tied for the NCAA lead with 28 home runs this season and set the Bulldogs' single-season and career records along the way. Fields finished tied for the NCAA lead with 18 saves and became the conference's all-time leader in that category. And both players were taken in the first round of this month's Major League Baseball draft.

"The milestones along the way, from that standpoint, it's the best season Georgia has ever had," Perno said, "but the finish is just tough to swallow right now."

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