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Georgia follows its formula to beat Arizona
By Will Kimmey
OMAHA--Georgia won 43 games this year with a formula that's anything but flashy.
Go ahead and add another win--an 8-7 one Friday against Arizona in the first game of the College World Series--courtesy of that same game plan.
"The key for us was to play close to our identity," Georgia coach David Perno said. "That's timely hits, good defense--we didn't make any errors--and making key pitches."
Georgia collected 12 hits, though Jonathan Wyatt's double was the only one that went for extra bases. Instead, it beat Arizona (35-26-1) with small ball. Perno knew his club wasn't going to club many home runs with the wind blowing in, so he called for four bunts in the game's first four innings.
Three of them went for hits, including DH Jason Jacobs' attempt in the bottom of the first inning that Arizona third baseman Brad Boyer fielded and threw away down the first base line. That allowed Bobby Felmy to score from first base and tie the game. Boyer played third as Moises Duran, the regular at the position, moved to second base for the third straight game to cover for John Hardy, who suffered a concussion in the Long Beach State super-regional.
"We felt we could expose their third baseman," Perno said. "We saw him on tape and there wasn't a lot of confidence in him. Obviously we didn't think we'd have three perfect bunts like that.
"We wanted to get to seven (runs) by the seventh inning because (Arizona starter Koley) Kolberg wasn't coming out. We just wanted to manufacture some runs early and a get a big one late."
Georgia starter Paul Lubrano, who didn't pitch in last weekend's two-game super-regional sweep at Georgia Tech, earned the start but couldn't make it out of the fourth inning. That's where Perno's always-reliable bullpen came into play. Righthander Johnny Dobbs entered with one out and allowed just two hits over the next 2 2/3 innings (though he allowed two runners he inherited to score in Arizona's five-run fourth).
Dobbs (6-2) earned his third win in as many postseason series by locating his three pitches for strikes. Lefthander Will Startup converted his third save in as many games (and 11th of the season) by working the final three innings of the game. He allowed a run on three hits, but walked one and notched four strikeouts.
No punchout was bigger than when Startup sat down Arizona's No. 3 hitter, first baseman Jordan Brown, on a 3-2 fastball with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the eighth inning. Brown merely swung through the pitch to end the threat. Georgia pitching coach Butch Thompson made a trip to the mound prior to that at-bat to remind Startup that Brown was a pull hitter, so Startup challenged him with fastballs away.
"Coach Thompson brings serenity and calm," Startup said. "He's able to analyze the situation, and he just slows the game down."
Arizona didn't display the same poise. The Wildcats committed four errors, and Kolberg allowed seven walks and issued three wild pitches (tying a CWS record) in looking like the unlikely Omaha entry they were billed as.
"We didn't play well today," Duran said. "We looked young."
Added coach Andy Lopez, "Ultimately, the opponent is the game of baseball, and we didn't go a good job of playing that opponent today."
Arizona showed some of the fight that led it to the CWS in the fourth inning. It wrapped out six base hits in a five-run fourth inning to chase Lubrano and take a 6-3 lead. Georgia answered right back by scoring four times in the bottom of the inning. Third baseman Josh Smith and left fielder Joey Side both hit two-run singles. Smith and Side each had two hits on the day, while shortstop Justin Holmes and Wyatt led the Bulldogs (44-21) with three hits each.
Holmes was involved in one of the game's most intriguing plays in the sixth inning. He stood on third base with Josh Morris on second and one out when Joey Side lifted a fly ball to right field. Arizona's Jeff Van Houten caught the ball and fired home to catcher Nick Hundley. The throw beat Holmes, who hesitated in tagging up to the plate, but he barreled over Hundley. NCAA rules require runners to avoid collisions by sliding, so Holmes was called out and then ejected from the game by home plate umpire Dave Buck.
"I guess they're bound by rules or whatever," Holmes said. "It wasn't malicious. I've got 28-30 guys in the dugout that I consider to be like my brothers, and I'm playing hard for them. I don't exactly know the rule; he was up the line. I wasn't trying to hurt anybody."
Holmes' ejection won't cause him to miss any more action. He likely will be in the lineup Sunday when Georgia plays the winner of Friday night's Texas-Arkansas matchup. Arizona will face the loser in a game in which it hopes to play a bit better.
"This is the youngest group I've ever brought to Omaha," said Lopez, who has piloted three previous teams from two different programs. "It's an exciting and electric place and it forces you to keep your emotions under control. We'll get better for it. Like anything else young people do, you get better and better each time you do it."