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Hyle helps Georgia handle Arizona

By Will Kimmey
June 22, 2004

OMAHA--Michael Hyle has a way of coming through when Georgia needs him most.

The Bulldogs were 22-15, 5-9 in the Southeastern Conference, when the sophomore righthander held Louisiana State to one run over seven innings in a 12-4 in Baton Rouge, La., on April 18. That win began a school-record 12-game SEC winning streak that eventually led to capturing the SEC's Eastern Division title.

Hyle got the ball Tuesday against Arizona charged with keeping Georgia from College World Series elimination. He again came through, allowing a run on six hits over six-plus innings in a 3-1 win.

"Michael Hyle has the confidence to step up in every big game," Georgia coach David Perno said. "He just executed the system and made quality pitches."

Georgia (45-22) scored just enough runs in support thanks to its team-oriented small ball approach. The Bulldogs effectively used four bunts in beating Arizona 8-7 on Friday in the CWS opener, but Wildcats coach Andy Lopez replaced Brad Boyer with Moises Duran at third base. So Perno changed his strategy, deciding that his club would gain an advantage by stealing bases, which Georgia did successfully five times.

"They made the switch, changing the third baseman to take away the bunt game and we wanted to get it started with the running game," Perno said. "We've got to score more runs. It seemed like we did a lot stealing bases and I kept looking up at the scoreboard and it wasn't changing. We felt like things were happening."

A pitcher's duel was what was happening. Arizona starter Kevin Guyette, a Georgia Tech transfer, took the loss to fall to 6-8 but gave up just two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. Hyle matched zeroes with him for the first six innings, the first time in this year's CWS that the starters for each team both advanced that far into the game.He kept the Wildcats guessing by using a strategy the Georgia coaching staff devised after the first game against Arizona (36-27-1).

"He got his offspeed over for strikes," said Arizona catcher Richard Mercado, who had two hits. "He was working backward, getting his offspeed over early in the count then he would comeback with the fastball in."

Hyle (8-2) walked Mercado to open the seventh inning, and Perno went to his bullpen for closer Will Startup. DH Nick Hundley tried to bunt Mercado to second, but Startup fielded the ball and whizzed it to shortstop Justin Holmes to cut down Mercado. But Holmes' throw to first sailed high and into the dugout, sending Hundley to second base. He scored on a double by second baseman Jason Hardy to make the score 2-1, and Arizona felt it might just be able to mount a comeback to keep Startup from his 12th save of the year.

But the lefthander used his low-90s fastball to retire eight of the next nine batters he faced to close out the Wildcats for the second time in five days.

"When he came in, I didn't think he looked quite as good as he was Friday," said Arizona coach Andy Lopez, who wrote "Must Win" on his scorecard in the blank where the game's date is supposed to go. "Those are my famous last words in Omaha.

"We got one hit and a run early, then he moved to another level."

Georgia answered that Arizona with one of its own in the top of the eighth. Second baseman Marshall Szabo, who had three hits and an RBI on the day, tripled to leadoff the inning and came home on a single by left fielder Bobby Felmy. Right fielder Joey Side added two hits and RBI for the Bulldogs.

The win sets up a rematch with Texas for Georgia on Wednesday at 2 p.m. The Longhorns won 9-3 on Sunday.

"We can't even enjoy this for a little bit?" Perno said. "The first time, we were thinking too much about Texas. Now we know they're human and if we go out and execute our game we can win."

Georgia will have to deal with a depleted pitching staff if it is to come through the loser's bracket and beat Texas twice to advance to the championship series. Perno danced around naming a starter for Wedneday, but mentioned Paul Lubrano, Johnny Dobbs and Brooks Brown as possibilities. Startup said he'd be ready in any event, so long as he didn't hurt his team.

Pitching depth was a question for Georgia heading into its regional. Hyle experienced some arm soreness and didn't pitch in any of his team's four games there.

"It was awful," he said. "All I wanted was to go out and help the team. I was sick to my stomach just sitting there and not being able to."

Hyle returned the following week to face Georgia Tech in a super-regional, but left after surrendering three runs on six hits in 3 2/3 innings. Those circumstances might have caused some concern for how well he could pitch in Omaha, but Perno said he never began to consider not using Hyle, or that the righthander might not deliver.

"It was night and day difference between the super-regional and today," Hyle said. "I threw one light bullpen (session) before that start. This time I got all my throwing in and a good long bullpen. It wasn't even a concern."

Nor was the estimated crowd of 18,000 at Rosenblatt Stadium, or the fact that his team faced elimination if he didn't pitch well. He had faced a similar situation in front of 8,102 roaring LSU fans at Alex Box stadium and emerged victorious.

"I don't look at it as a big game," Hyle said. "I just go out there and execute my gameplan and try to put my team in position for a win whether I'm pitching at Podunk Stadium or Rosenblatt Stadium."

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