Originally created 05/04/01

Diamond Dogs vie for recognition



Before this season, his second as baseball coach at Georgia, Ron Polk was lamenting his team's lack of radio coverage.

Given the presence of pro sports in nearby Atlanta, the Diamond Dogs are little more than an afterthought. On a good day, the AM radio station that broadcasts Georgia's games carries six or seven miles.

"Maybe they're just waiting until we win," Polk said in mid-February.

It might be time to give Polk's team more air time, because it appears the Diamond Dogs are on the verge of reaching the big time in the Southeastern Conference and abroad.

"When you mention Georgia baseball, it just doesn't have that ring to it," said Polk, whose team carries a seven-game winning streak and a 33-15 record into this weekend's three-game series with visiting Vanderbilt. "That's what we're trying to do, get them some recognition before I leave here."

For the first time in a long time, the No. 19 Diamond Dogs are recognized as something other than SEC patsies. Georgia is 15-9 in the conference and owns a two-game lead in the East Division, and one more win by the Diamond Dogs or a loss by Alabama will wrap up a spot in the SEC Tournament, which will be held May 16-20 in Hoover, Ala.

Success has come quickly for Polk, who became the winningest baseball coach in SEC history during a 21-year career at Mississippi State. The former Georgia Southern coach ended a two-year retirement before going to Georgia, and he wasn't exactly enamored with what he saw when he arrived in the summer of 1999.

The Diamond Dogs' best record the previous seven years was 30-29 in 1993, and only Vanderbilt's struggles during the period kept Georgia from taking up permanent residence in the SEC East cellar.

"I knew when I came here that Georgia was way, way down," Polk said. "Georgia baseball is not synonymous with anything at all, other than the 1990 national championship. Before that, it was not very good. And from 1991 on, it was just a disaster."

Despite a lack of pitching depth, the 57-year-old coach's team "survived" enough last year to earn its first SEC Tournament berth since 1995. Depth and experience on the mound were Polk's biggest question marks entering this season, but the Diamond Dogs hurlers have turned them into exclamation points.

Though not dominating, Polk's pitchers have come through - particularly the relievers, who own more victories than the starters. In Monday's 6-1 victory over USC Aiken in Athens, senior Andy Hussion pitched a complete-game three-hitter and struck out a career-high 10 batters.

Also Monday, junior Jeffery Carswell was named SEC Pitcher of the Week after going 2-0 with a perfect ERA in three appearances last week. In 6 2/3 innings of work from the bullpen, Carswell earned wins over No. 13 Georgia Tech and No. 14 Tennessee. The latter victory came during a crucial three-game sweep of the Volunteers in Knoxville, Tenn.

"Had we had any pitching at all last year, we would have been a contender," Polk said. "This year, we've got more pitching, and that's the reason we're having more success."

NOTE: Saturday is Senior Night for the Diamond Dogs. Former Greenbrier High standout Mark Thornhill will be honored with eight other seniors before the second game of the three-game series.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larrywill7@yahoo.com.