May 3, 2012

Dawgs set to host Auburn

For a team looking for a little power, freshman Justin Bryan is starting to show some signs he may just have what it takes.

The native of Franklin County is coming off a game last Sunday against fourth-ranked LSU which saw the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder blast a pair of home runs enabling the Bulldogs to salvage one of the three contests in Baton Rouge with a 5-3 win.

"It was amazing. It was kind of the moment you think about when you sign with a university like Georgia," Bryan said before practice Thursday. "It really makes it worth it and gives you confidence heading into the next series."

For Georgia (25-20, 9-12), that next series starts Friday night (7:05 p.m., Fox Sports South) against an Auburn squad (25-19, 10-11) that is coming off a three-game sweep of Tennessee.

Bryan is expected to start in two of the three games.

"Everybody is prepared to jump in whenever they need to. You never know when the team is going to need somebody to step up," said Bryan. "The coaches work with us like we're starters so it's not really tough when you go from the bench to starting."

It's no wonder Bryan is starting see more time off the pine.

In just 32 career at-bats, Bryan has nine hits, including four home runs and 11 RBI.

The son of former Georgia football letterman Kenneth Bryan (1984), the younger Bryan said his two-homer day against the Tigers was something he won't soon forget.

"He's absolutely thrilled. He's been a Georgia fan his whole life. I've been a Georgia fan my whole life," Bryan said. "It's definitely great to play for the University I grew up cheering for and to contribute like I have is great. I just hope to do well in the future."

Bryan's Bulldog career didn't get off to all that swift of a start.

Injuries kept him from taking part in the fall and again in January before finally getting himself conditioned to start making a contribution.

"We've just been waiting on him," skipper David Perno said. "If he's healthy, he's in."

Right now he's healthy and playing.

Bryan is expected to start at designated hitter in Friday and Sunday's game, only taking a seat on Saturday while Joey Delmonico catches with Brett DeLoach sliding in at DH.

Dawgs healthy going into next-to-last homestand

Perno's Bulldogs are at 100 percent health wise for the first time in a number of weeks, heading into this weekend's series against Auburn.

That includes freshman Hunter Cole (.306-6-17), who missed six games with a muscle strain in his side before returning last weekend against LSU.

"I feel like were as good health wise as we've been. The lineup's intact. The pitching roles seem to be in place. Now we've got to go with it," Perno said. "There's no more moving, no more tinkering, you've been in it long enough where you know what you've got."

That includes moving freshman Pete Nagel to the back end of the bullpen, where he and Blake Dieterich are expected to pitch in place of Bryan Benzor, who struggled in the late innings last weekend against LSU.

Perno hopes not having any mid-week games due to finals will help his team come out fresh against the Tigers.

"I've got to think so. The rest from the pitching and arm-wise standpoint," Perno said. "To get everybody fresh for the stretch run and mentally from traveling on the road at those environments, to finally get rested and refreshed, plus knowing that the majority of the people here tomorrow night will be cheering for you, is going to be big."

Focused on 15

Fifteen is the magic number for the Bulldogs - 15 conference wins, that is.

Get that, Perno said, and Georgia can stamp its ticket to post-season play.

"That means us winning the next three series, or sweeping one, winning one, and getting one (victory) from another series."

But it won't be easy.

After this weekend's series against Auburn, Georgia hosts two-time defending national champ South Carolina (33-11, 14-7) before ending the year at Alabama (17-28, 6-15).

"If you're .500 in this league and you're going to get a bid, because you're going to be in the middle of the pack. You're going to be five or a six (in the conference)," Perno said. "We're at least going to have to beat South Carolina once and have to win the series against Auburn, so you'll have the quality wins and you'll have the fifth or sixth seed - worse case scenario the seventh seed, but I really doubt that."

NOTES: Alex Wood (5-1, 2.69) starts Friday night's first game against Auburn's Luke Jacobs (5-1, 3.21). Saturday, it's Michael Palazzone (2-5, 5.40) vs. Daniel Koger (3-4, 2.67) with freshman Luke Crumley facing a pitcher-to-be-determined for the Tigers. … Friday night's game will be televised by Fox Sports South with CSS showing Saturday's 4:05 contest. Sunday's 2 p.m. finale is not televised. … Junior third baseman Curt Powell (.355-2-16) comes into play with a 13-game hitting streak. … The Bulldogs are one of the top defensive teams in the SEC, fielding .977 overall and .980 in SEC play. Those marks are on pace to set a school record for the second straight season.