Georgia softball opens postseason looking for power surge behind SEC Player of the Week Jayda Kearney

Georgia outfielder Jayda Kearney (8) had the strongest finish of any hitter in the SEC and UGA hopes she can continue to hit well in the SEC Tournament. (Photo by Mackenzie Miles)
Mackenzie Miles

ATHENS — First-year Georgia softball coach Tony Baldwin is hoping to find some postseason momentum after the Bulldogs experienced a late-season fade.

Georgia, which returned eight position starters from a team that reached the Women’s College World Series last season, struggled down the stretch by dropping its last three SEC series.

“I know we have the ability to be a good team,” said Baldwin, who was promoted from within to his head coaching post after players spoke to UGA athletic director Josh Brooks on his behalf.

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“I look forward to the postseason with a fresh start, moving forward, and being the best we can be.”

It’s an experienced team, but it also appears to be a Bulldogs team that is wearing down as it heads to the SEC Tournament in Gainesville, Fla.

Number-9-seed Georgia (40-15) plays No. 8-seed Ole Miss (38-16) at 7:30 p.m. in the first round of the SEC Softball Tournament (TV: SEC Network).

This is a Bulldogs team that set a new program record for single-season home runs with sophomore Jayda Kearney blasting No. 100 with a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh in a 10-8 loss to Ole Miss last Saturday.

Kearney hit team home runs No. 98 and No. 99, too, winning final SEC Player of the Week honors with a.778 average in the three-game series with Ole Miss.

Georgia is just one of three teams (Oklahoma and Wichita State are the others) with six players who have 10 or more home runs this season.

The name of the game is fast-PITCH, however, and for all of the in-state softball talent the state of Georgia produces, the Bulldogs have historically struggled to maintain quality depth in the circle.

Staff ace Madison Kerpics (18-8) has a 3.02 ERA, but sophomore Britton Rogers (4.60), freshman Kylie Macy (4.62) and senior Lauren Mathis (4.82) have not been as effective.

Georgia ranks 12th of the 13 teams in the SEC with softball programs with a 3.94 ERA this season.

It doesn’t help that the Bulldogs rank seventh in the SEC and 63rd in the nation in fielding percentage.

Georgia, for all of its past miraculous WCWS runs, has not been so successful in SEC Tournaments, 21-23 in 20 appearances.

The program has won only one SEC tournament, back in 2014 when it was held in Columbia, S.C. Chelsea Wilkinson, UGA’s current pitching coach, was the tournament MVP that year.

A win over Ole Miss would provide Georgia with an opportunity to take on SEC regular-season champion and No. 1 tourney seed Arkansas in a 7:30 p.m. game on Thursday.

These Bulldogs players have proven dangerous when they get on a run, as Florida discovered last year when Georgia shocked the Gators in Super Regional play behind Mary WIlson Avant’s legendary postseason pitching performances.

This year’s UGA team finished the regular season losing six of its final 10 games.

It is worth noting that last year’s team had lost 10 of 11 games at the end of the regular -- including its SEC tourney opener -- before ripping off five straight postseason wins to reach the WCWS in Oklahoma City.

Georgia home run leaders

Lacy Fincher 16

Sara Mosley 16

Jayda Kearney 15

Sydney Kuma 12

Jaiden Fields 10

Ellie Armistead 10

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