ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs fully expected to receive a national seed from the NCAA Tournament selection committee on Monday. But there were some doubts.
In the end, though, that just made for a better party.
Those in the Bulldogs’ locker room at Foley Field lit up in “explosive celebration” as Georgia received a national seed for the first time in 10 years and will compete in the NCAA Baseball Tournament for the first time since 2011.
— Georgia Baseball (@BaseballUGA) May 28, 2018
The Bulldogs (37-19), who once sported a national RPI as high as No. 3, once were considered a shoo-in to land a national seed. But after losing two games in a row to get bounced from the SEC Tournament last week in Hoover, Ala., there was plenty of uncertainty as the team watched the nationally-televised selection on ESPNU.
“When they showed [seeds] 6 and 7, we were actually starting to sweat a little bit,” said senior slugger Keegan McGovern shortly after the Bulldogs received the news. “We didn’t know where we’d be at, but just to see our name pop up and it showed 8, that’s probably one of the greatest moments I’ve ever had. Everybody went crazy, high-fiving, hugging, slapping hands. It was really awesome.”
Said junior designated hitter Michael Curry: “Yeah, that was probably one of the more exciting moments I’ve had here in Athens.”
Being a top-8 seed means UGA will host as long as the team advances in the tournament. The Bulldogs will open play against Campbell (35-24) Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET. Duke (40-15) is the No. 2 seed in the Athens Regional and play Troy (41-19) at 2 p.m. in the other matchup. It’s a double-elimination tournament, with the 16 winners from each regional advancing.
If Georgia advances, it also will host the Super Regional the following weekend. That will be for the right to advance to the College World Series.
The Bulldogs have advanced to the College World Series all four times they were a national seed. The last time was 2008, when Georgia lost in the finals.
The Bulldogs edged Texas Tech for the No. 8 seed. The winners of the Athens and Lubbock Regionals will face off in the Super Regionals.
While there was some doubt among the players, Georgia coach Scott Stricklin never doubted that his team would receive a national seed, as long as the selection committee did its homework. Stricklin pointed to the fact that the Bulldogs recorded 29 wins against top 100 teams in national RPI, which was second only to top-seeded Florida and No. 7 Florida State. They also had the second-best conference record among SEC teams and had a winning record on the road, both overall (12-11) and in the league (8-7), and were No. 4 nationally in strength of schedule.
“The SEC is the toughest league in the country, by far,” Stricklin said. “We had the résumé, but when you get down to it there at the end, so many teams have the résumé. The committee does a good job of matching up all those résumés and fortunately we got the nod. I would have been disappointed had we not, but I would’ve tried not to show it.”
Now, Stricklin won’t have to. Instead, he’ll be able to relax in the knowledge of the Bulldogs’ accomplishments this season. Georgia hadn’t earned an NCAA Tournament in his previous four seasons.
The Bulldogs turn to regular Friday night pitcher Chase Adkins (5-0, 4.12 ERA) to start the opener. Stricklin said he’s leaning toward switching up and starting Kevin Smith (8-1, 3.17) in the second game.
Georgia has not played any of the teams in its bracket. Duke is the biggest threat, a senior-laden team with a lot of pop in its lineup. But the Bulldogs were 5-0 against the ACC this season, going 3-0 against Georgia Tech and taking both games it played against Clemson, which was seeded 10th and will host a regional this weekend.
“We played well against Clemson and Tech, but Coach [Chris] Pollard has done a terrific job at Duke and they’ve turned that program around,” Stricklin said. “They were in the conversation for a national seed just a couple of weeks ago, so they’re good.”
The Bulldogs are careful not to look past their opening opponent. The Camels of Campbell come in as champions of the Big South Conference.
“That’s all we’re thinking about,” Curry said. “Hosting a regional is great and possibly hosting a Super Regional. But none of that stuff is possible if we don’t focus on Friday. It’s a new season. It’s a new start for everybody. It’s really exciting, especially seeing four SEC teams in the top 8. The way we’re approaching it is we’re going into Friday 0-0.”