SEC Baseball Preview: Georgia Bulldogs

With five teams finishing last season ranked in the top 25, including three top 10 teams in Vanderbilt #6, Mississippi State #8 and USC #10 the league was as competitive as ever, and once again figures to make a major impact nationally during the 2008 season. went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to put together preseason scouting reports for all the league teams.

Coming into the 2007 season Georgia's baseball program knew it still had some growing up to do. It did just that during a season where it was forced to replace much of the fire power from the program's run to the 2006 College World Series.

As one of the youngest teams in the SEC, Georgia ended its year with the second most pitching appearances by freshmen (86) and third most at bats (703) by freshmen hitters. The Dawgs finished 2007 by hitting only .279 as a team and had a 4.66 ERA. In the SEC, Georgia's starting pitchers went 9-10 with a 5.82 ERA while the bullpen went 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA. Also, Georgia averaged 5.2 runs a game and only 4.3 runs in SEC games. The youth factor was too much to overcome, and as expected, Georgia missed out on the post-season, going 23-23 with an SEC-worst 11-19 record in conference play.

But with a season under its belt, the youth corps at Georgia is expected to blossom into a force to be reckoned with during SEC play. Pitching will be the key for the Dawgs in 2008. Georgia has arguably the top rotation of pitchers in the SEC: Stephen Dodson, Trevor Holder and Nathon Moreau all return as does All-America closer Josh Fields. Moreau may be the Dawgs' ace this season after ending 2007 with wins over No. 1 Vanderbilt, No. 7 South Carolina and No. 13 Mississippi State. A second-round selection in last season's Major League Baseball Draft, Fields turned down a chance to sign with the Atlanta Braves in favor of finishing out his senior season.

Offensively, sophomore shortstop Gordon Beckham led the team in home runs (13) and RBI (51) while batting .307 in 2007. He has 25 home runs in his career. Junior third baseman Ryan Peisel (.295-4-29) had a career-best 18-game hitting streak during the year, which ranked as the third longest in school history. Beckham and Peisel will be back to anchor the infield while junior Matt Olson (.317-5-43) will direct the outfield.

Georgia's schedule has the built-in burden of playing in the SEC. The Bulldogs host South Carolina, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Alabama and Kentucky, but travel to Arkansas, Mississippi State, LSU, Florida and Vanderbilt. Georgia's out-of-conference schedule is ambitious. The Dawgs also play the ACC's Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech and line up against the Pac-10's Arizona and Oregon State, too.

If the Dawgs can get timely hitting to go along with impressive pitching, a key to the Dawgs' run of three College World Series appearances since 2001, they could be back home in Omaha again next June.

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