OMAHA—History repeated itself in more ways than one for Georgia on Monday. A little more repetition over the next week could make the Bulldogs very happy.
Georgia came from behind to beat Stanford 4-3 and improve to 2-0 in the College World Series. The last time Georgia won its first two CWS games was 1990, and the second win that year came against Stanford, too. That Series turned out pretty well for the Bulldogs, who went on to win their only national championship.
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Point: The seventh inning was an emotional rollercoaster for both teams, but the final, decisive momentum shift went Georgia’s way. It looked like Stanford had dodged a bullet when Bryce Massanari missed a three-run home run by inches, but two batters later Matt Cerione delivered a go-ahead two-run single to give Georgia its final 4-3 margin of victory.
But that’s just triviality. Of more consequence Monday was that much more recent history repeated itself. For the second time in three days, the Bulldogs (43-23-1) overcame an early deficit thanks to stellar work from their deep, talented bullpen and timely hits from their offense.
“It was a lot like the first game,” Georgia coach David Perno said. “Just tremendous relief pitching . . . We hung in there, got great pitching, they only scored in one frame, and we got big hits when we needed it.”
The biggest hit was sophomore center fielder Matt Cerione’s two-run single to left-center field with two outs in the seventh, turning a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead, which the bullpen held onto. Georgia had left the bases loaded the previous inning and squandered good scoring chances earlier, leaving runners in scoring position in the third and fourth and having runners thrown out trying to steal second base in the first and fifth.
It looked like the Bulldogs might have missed out on another golden opportunity in the seventh, when Bryce Massanari’s drive down the right-field line landed on the padding just below the foul pole, an inch foul. It looked at first glance like a go-ahead three-run homer, but instead it was a long strike. Stanford reliever Austin Yount failed to take advantage of his second life, hitting Massanari with the next pitch to load the bases and set the stage for Cerione’s two-run single one batter later.
“That big two-out hit they had, that was the difference,” Stanford coach Mark Marquess said.
But Cerione never would have had a chance to be the hero if not for the brilliant work of the Georgia bullpen. Stanford (40-23-2) took a 3-0 lead against UGa. starter Nick Montgomery in the third inning on the strength of Zach Jones’ leadoff triple, a sacrifice fly and a two-run homer by Jason Castro. But thereafter, Georgia’s bullpen rendered the Cardinal bats silent.
Junior righthander Stephen Dodson entered in the fourth and allowed just one hit over 3 2/3 scoreless innings before handing over to lefthander Alex McRee, who struck out two in 1 1/3 perfect innings of work. Flamethrowing righthanded closer Joshua Fields worked around a hit batsman and a walk in the ninth, getting a game-ending 6-4-3 double play to secure his 17th save in 17 tries.
Going back to Georgia’s CWS-opening win over Miami, the Bulldogs’ bullpen has allowed just one run on four hits over 11 innings of work.
“They’re tough. They give you a different look,” Marquess said of the Georgia relievers. “The lefthander comes in and gives the lefthanded hitters a tough look, then Dodson with that slider, he got a lot of our righthanded hitters out with the slider, and our lefthanded hitters out. He settled it down. Their lefty was huge, I was glad to see him come out of there. But it’s no cakewalk when the big guy comes in.”
The big guy, of course, is Fields, who stands just 6-foot but carries himself like a giant. As usual, Fields looked overpowering with his mid-to-upper-90s fastball and devastating power curve, though he was a little wilder Monday than he was Saturday against Miami.
A major reason Fields has been so successful as a senior has been the work of the setup guys in front of him. That unit is the biggest reason Georgia is in Omaha, and it’s no surprise that Fields takes plenty of satisfaction in the success of that unit.
“I think what makes it more satisfying is knowing it hasn’t always been like this,” Fields said. “This year we really worked on some stuff in the offseason. The way Dean (Weaver) and McRee really stepped it up in the middle to the end of the year has just been huge for us . . . Having guys like that that can go the seventh and eighth innings, and then me throw the ninth inning instead of having to throw the seventh, eighth and ninth, it takes huge pressure off of me.”
That bullpen also takes a lot of pressure off Georgia’s hitters. They know their bullpen will keep the game close, so they it’s only a matter of time before they come up with a key hit to put the game away.
“When you stop a team like (Stanford) and give our offense a chance to get going, we’ve got enough offensive weapons that eventually we’ll come through and score,” Perno said.
Just like they have time and time again this year.