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February 14, 2013
Season-opener at hand
The preseason prognosticators aren't giving Georgia's baseball team a whole lot of love.
But Bulldog had coach David Perno doesn't seem too concerned.
Although Georgia returns five starters and seven pitchers from last year's 31-26 campaign, the Bulldogs go into Friday's season-opener at Georgia Southern (6 p.m.) tabbed fifth in the seven-team SEC East, according to a recent poll of the league's head coaches.
"I don't think I've read much about any of our guys in the preseason stuff that I've seen other than Curt (Powell) and Kyle (Farmer)," said Perno, who is entering his 12th season as the Bulldogs' head coach. "There hasn't been a lot of respect for any of our guys. Our recruiting class has been ranked high, but at the same time you see much about our chances that I've seen from any of the publications."
But Perno isn't complaining.
"That kind of stuff will drive you to a certain extent, but in the end we've just got to do what we can to get this team to play to its ability," Perno said. "If we play to our ability, I think we're going to be pretty good."
Time will tell.
Headlined by Powell (.355-2-20), a senior All-SEC selection and Farmer (.302-4-41) who served as the Team USA shortstop this past summer, the Bulldogs also return Freshman All-American outfielder Hunter Cole (.276-7-23), along with senior catcher Brett DeLoach (.303-1-21) and sophomore second baseman Nelson Ward (.277-0-13), who Perno believes should become a good table-setter at the top of the order.
"Nelson Ward's a great insertion. He was on our team last year but didn't play him as much as we need to. He got valuable experience but at the same time, he's a difference maker, especially at the top of the order," Perno said. "He's a gritty guy, but there's a skill-set there. He's not just a hard-nosed kid, he's got great hands, he's got good speed, he's got bat control, he's got plate discipline, he knows how to hit. He's got skills and that mentality. Those two together can be very good for your team."
The rest of Georgia's lineup will be relatively untested.
Along with Cole, right fielder Jared Walsh (.175-1-5) and sophomore left fielder Justin Bryan (.289-4-13) are expected to provide some much-needed pop for the Bulldogs, who will also be starting a pair of true freshmen in first baseman J.T. Phillips at first base and Daniel Nichols at DH. The Bulldogs have another freshman in catcher Zack Bowers, who is expected to make his debut in Sunday's game against the Eagles.
"With this year lineup it's a good thing, we've got a good mixture of power and speed, we've got veterans and guys who are young," Farmer said. "I think we should if we all hit to our capabilities will be able to put up some great numbers. I think we'll be fun to watch."
On the mound, John's Creek freshman Sean McLaughlin is set to make some history.
The former Northview High standout - a 38th-round selection by the Atlanta Braves - will become the first true freshman Bulldog pitcher to start Opening Day in records dating back to 1972. McLaughlin is slated to see action as an outfielder in the series too. Redshirt junior left-hander Patrick Boling (1-2, 5.62 ERA in 2011) will start Saturday and sophomore right-hander Luke Crumley (3-2, 3.86 ERA in 2012) goes on Sunday.
Perno said the decision to start the 5-11, 190-pound righty was actually an easy one to make.
"He just throws strikes and doesn't beat himself. He's got good stuff, it's not great, but as the season progresses it will be big-time stuff," Perno said. "But he's a tremendous competitor. He's way ahead maturity wise of his years. He's just calm, cool, never gets rattled and always challenges the strike zone. Who knows? I may be downplaying his stuff, there's days his stuff is as good as anybody we've got."
In the bullpen, the Bulldogs won't have Pete Nagel this year as he recovers from shoulder surgery, but Perno feels comfortable that the combination of Walsh, Phillips and freshman David Gonzalez has what it takes to fill the void.
NOTES: Along with Nagel, the Bulldogs will be without the services of catcher Brandon Stephens and Conor Welton who will sit out the season due to injury. … Georgia opens the home portion of its season next Wednesday at Kennesaw State. … Freshman infielder/pitcher Jess Posey of Smithville is the younger brother of reigning National League MVP Buster Posey.