Originally created 06/07/01

Polk has company on trip to Omaha



Ron Polk attends the College World Series yearly as a board member of the American Baseball Coaches Association.

When the 57-year-old Georgia coach left Wednesday for Omaha, Neb., he was carrying more baggage than usual.

"Most the time, I go out there and I forget to bring the ballclub," Polk said. "But this time I brought them, and that's always exciting to have a group of kids playing in the final eight."

The Bulldogs (47-20), who play No. 2 Southern California on Saturday (1:30 p.m., CBS-Ch. 12), know of the College World Series experience only through what they've read and heard.

Georgia entered the year with one winning season in its previous six and hadn't been to the World Series since 1990, when it won the national title. The Bulldogs spent the rest of the decade in a morass of mediocrity and ineptitude before Polk ended a two-year retirement and took over before the 2000 season.

This is the seventh team Polk has taken to Omaha - he took Georgia Southern once and Mississippi State five times - and his job between now and Saturday is to convince the Bulldogs they belong there, too.

"There will be a lot of people, a lot of TV cameras, a lot of media, a lot of people that they've probably heard about and read about," Polk said.

The Bulldogs already have read plenty about their opening-round opponent. The Trojans are the most decorated program in the history of college baseball, having claimed a record 12 national championships - more than twice as many as any other school. Ten of those titles came in the 1950s, '60s and '70s under legendary coach Rod Dedeaux, who won five straight from 1970 to 1974.

Southern Cal (44-17) is making its 21st appearance in the World Series, another record, but Polk said all those numbers don't add up to much once the game starts.

"Southern Cal has as good a tradition as anybody in the country," he said. "When Rod Dedeaux was there, they won 10 national championships. But none of the boys playing for the Trojans right now played on those teams.

"There's a lot of teams that go out to Omaha who have great tradition, and some do not. Some fail and some succeed, but I don't think it's because of the uniform you put on."

Lately, the Trojans' success has been attributed more to their pitching than choice of attire. Junior Mark Prior, scheduled to start Saturday's game, was the most dominating pitcher in the country this season in amassing a 14-1 record and 189 strikeouts.

The Chicago Cubs liked those numbers so much that they selected the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder with the second overall pick Tuesday in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.

"We've just got to try to put the ball in play against Mark Prior," Polk said.

Polk doesn't appear too concerned that his players will succumb to Prior or the pressure. The Bulldogs have been unfazed by their sudden and unexpected fame so far, and their coach doesn't expect that to change this weekend.

"They're a fun-loving group," Polk said. "They're really a close-knit group of kids, and winning helps that. If we were losing all year, they'd probably be fighting each other and swearing at each other. But they're a very happy, congenial group of kids right now."

Said senior catcher Tony Burchett: "I'm sure once we get out there we might be overwhelmed by it all. But it's like coach Polk said, we're not going out there just to be satisfied that we made it. We're going to try and win a national championship."

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