Originally created 06/18/04

Georgia, Arizona 'dog it

OMAHA, Neb. - Georgia coach David Perno and Arizona's Andy Lopez haven't taken dibs on who is the biggest underdog in today's opening game of the College World Series.

Maybe they should.

Georgia (43-21) was picked to finish fourth in the SEC East, but shared the conference title with Arkansas before beating Clemson in the Regional and Georgia Tech in the Super Regional to advance to the CWS.

Arizona's journey to Omaha was equally as impressive.

The Wildcats (35-25-1) barely qualified as one of the 64 teams to make the NCAA tournament. Once in, Arizona upset No. 5 national seed Notre Dame in the Regional and Long Beach State in the Super Regional.

Game time for the Wildcats and Bulldogs is 2 p.m. today at Rosenblatt Stadium.

"We've been under the radar all year, and that's just fine with us," Perno said. "We seem to play our best ball when that's the case.

"We enjoy being the underdog."

Lopez, who is taking his third team to the CWS (Pepperdine 1992, Florida 1998), laughed when told what Perno said.

"David knows better than that," said Lopez, who recommended Perno to Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley in 2001. "There's no way. Look at our record.

"But if we're both underdogs, like we say, we're going to play for seven hours and nobody's going to score."

Georgia and Arizona actually do have a lot in common - beginning with the two coaches.

When Lopez was fired from Florida, it started a chain of events that actually led to Perno getting the Georgia job - after Pat McMahon left Mississippi State for Florida and Ron Polk left Georgia for Mississippi State.

"I was happy to help David out," Lopez said. "I feel very blessed to be in Arizona, and I'm certainly glad that things worked out for David the way it did."

The connections don't stop there, though.

Arizona catcher Richard Mercado was a summer league teammate of Paul Lubrano (5-4, 4.22 ERA), Georgia's Game 1 starter.

Also, Wildcats pitcher John Meloan is one of three players from the Pac-10 school to play with Bulldogs second baseman Marshall Szabo last summer in the Cape Cod League.

Meloan was Szabo's roommate.

"He was pretty good roommate," Meloan said. "He liked to sleep late, leave his clothes on the floor and he didn't make his bed. But other than that he's a typical guy."

Mercado spent time with Lubrano following Thursday's workout at Rosenblatt Stadium. The players won't speak again until after today's game.

"You put all that aside when you cross the white lines," Szabo said. "But after the game, we'll be friends again."

Arizona is making its first appearance in the CWS since 1986, while Georgia is back after a three-year absence, when the Bulldogs lost to Southern California and Tennessee in 2001.

"These kids are all business. They know where their thoughts need to be, that they're here for the right reasons," Perno said. "In 2001, we were just happy to be here. Our pitchers were tired, and we just weren't ready to play.

"I don't feel that way this time."

Neither does Georgia shortstop Justin Holmes.

"We're happy to be here, but we're not just happy to be here," Holmes said.

"We didn't come just to make an appearance."


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