ATHENS — The records continue to fall for the Georgia Bulldogs in a season full of them.
The Bulldogs (44-15) were awarded a No. 4 national seed by the NCAA selection committee on Monday when pairings were announced. It’s the first time in school history Georgia has received a national seed in back-to-back years (they were the No. 8 seed last year). It’s also UGA’s highest seeding the program has received ever. The previous best was No. 6 in 2001.
The national seed means the Bulldogs are assured of hosting games at Foley Field throughout the regionals. Joining Georgia in the Athens Regional are Florida Atlantic (40-19), Florida State (36-21) and Mercer (36-21). The Bulldogs will square off against the fourth-seeded Bears Friday night at 7 at Foley Field. The Seminoles and Florida Atlantic will get things started at noon Friday. It’s a double-elimination tournament.
Georgia is eager to get a do-over at Foley Field this year. Last year, the Bulldogs were eliminated in their own regional by Duke.
“We’re hungry. Hungry,” sophomore pitcher Emerson Hancock said. “Last year was a really bad taste for all of us. We didn’t want that to happen, not on our own field. So, I know the guys have been ready for another regional and get another chance to go at it.”
Said two-way starter Aaron Schunk: “This is what I personally and the team has been working for since that game ended against Duke. This is what we’ve been pushing and working hard for, all the 6 a.m. workouts in the fall and the mental toughness stuff we’ve been doing, the tough games and good games. It’s what we played for every weekend.”
Despite the high seeding, Georgia’s path is not an easy one. Mercer is a hot team that just won the Southern Conference Tournament. FSU will be wanting to send out Mike Martin, its Hall of Fame coach, on a high note as he has already announced his retirement at season’s end. Meanwhile, the Owls enter as the 2 seed.
If the Bulldogs are fortunate enough to advance this year, it will host the winner of the Baton Rouge Regional. That’s expected to be 13th-seeded LSU (37-24), which gave Georgia all it could handle in losing two of three early in the SEC home-opening series early in the season. The Tigers face Stony Brook (31-21), with Southern Miss (38-19) and Arizona State (37-17) in the other half of the Baton Rouge Regional.
But the Bulldogs said one of the keys this year is not getting ahead of themselves.
“It’s a really tough regional,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “I think it’s a tough draw. Mercer’s really good and playing really well and on a roll right now. And you’ve got Florida State coming in for Mike Martin’s swan song. … I hope we can advance, but we know it’s going to be a big challenge.”
Georgia was one of four SEC teams to receive national seeds Monday. Vanderbilt (No. 2), Arkansas (5) and Mississippi State (6) were the others. UCLA was awarded the top seed.
Georgia Tech (41-17) ended up with the No. 3 seed, something that came as a surprise not only to Georgia players and coaches, but also to the college baseball community. But the Stricklin reasoned that the committee went with the Yellow Jackets over the Bulldogs because Tech took two of three from the Bulldogs this season.
“I don’t think anybody was thinking they’d be a 3 seed,” Schunk said. “But that’s who the committee chose and that just shows the strength of baseball in the state of Georgia. We’re just going to go out and try to get our jobs done.”
The good news is the archrivals won’t meet in the tournament unless they both make it to Omaha for the College World Series.
Now the Bulldogs have to figure out how to handle their pitching. Georgia’s top two starters, Hancock and Tony Locey, split the last game against Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament semifinals. So either is good to go.
Hancock had to leave in the fourth inning due to a cut on his right, throwing hand. Monday, he showed a tiny scab on the knuckle of his right thumb and said he was ready to go.
“I just couldn’t get it to stop bleeding (last Saturday),” he said. “I’m fine.”
Georgia’s Aaron Schunk
Georgia P Emerson Hancock
Georgia coach Scott Stricklin