Georgia enters SEC Tournament a desperate team once again. After dropping two of three games to last-place Alabama in the final regular-season series this past weekend, the Bulldogs are assured of nothing beyond this week’s double-elimination tournament in Hoover.
But that’s kind of the way it has been all season for the eighth-seeded Diamond Dogs, who open play late tonight against fifth-seeded Vanderbilt. They faced adversity even before the first pitch of the season. So needing to win a couple of games in the conference tournament is hardly a daunting task.
“We’re on edge a little bit,” said pitcher Alex Wood, who will get the start against the Commodores. “We feel like we need to win two or three to be safe. But we’re used to having our backs against the wall. We’re ready to get started and excited about playing Vanderbilt.”
Because it dropped two of three to Alabama — including an excruciating 6-4 loss in Game 3 — Georgia (31-24, 14-15 SEC) finished a game below .500 in the rugged SEC. Because the league is so strong in baseball this year, the general thought was .500 or a game above would assure an NCAA postseason bid. The Bulldogs lost one opportunity with a Sunday rain-out against South Carolina the next-to-last weekend.
As it is, the Bulldogs enter the postseason with a shaky RPI of 50. So there is some work to be done.
“Yeah, [the SEC tournament] is always important, but obviously it’s very important that we play well this week,” Georgia coach David Perno said. “We’re excited about Alex being on the mound and Michael [Palazzone] hasn’t been a whole lot different the second half of the season.”
Wood has emerged as one of the SEC’s top pitchers. The redshirt sophomore left-hander from Charlotte is 7-2 with a 2.58 earned-run average.
Wood is eager to get another crack at the Commodores (29-25, 16-14). He was on the mound with a 1-0 lead when weather caused an hour-delay and he was unable to return. The Bulldogs held on for a 1-0 win but let late leads slip away in the next two games and lost the series.
Georgia comes into tonight’s game 1-6 against Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament, including a 10-0 loss to start off last year’s event. The Bulldogs eventually reached the semifinals and returned to the NCAA tournament.
“We definitely feel like we owe them one,” Wood said. “They’ve been playing good here at the end of the year. But right now everybody’s 0-0 and we’re ready to go out and string a couple of wins together.”
In a similar scenario last year, the Bulldogs went 3-2 in the SEC tournament, which propelled to them to another NCAA regional bid. Georgia made it to the NCAA Corvallis Regional finals before falling to Oregon State.
“We’ve played well of late; we’ve just been a little short in the run category,” Perno said. “We’re throwing strikes and taking care of the baseball. We feel good with Alex going Tuesday, and he’s been as good as anybody we’ve played. We knew a few weeks ago that this would be an important tournament again for us, just like last year.”