Originally created 06/02/06

Georgia looking to keep up play



ATHENS, Ga. - Until the end of the year, playing at home looked like the last place Georgia wanted to be.

And the last time Florida State visited Foley Field, coach Mike Martin said he never wanted to come back.

But both the Bulldogs and the Seminoles seem delighted to be here this weekend for the NCAA regionals.

Host Georgia (41-19), the nation's seventh-seeded team, plays Northeast Conference champion Sacred Heart (26-28) at 7 p.m. today. The Pioneers are in their first NCAA Tournament, seven years into Division I status.

Florida State (42-19), playing in its 29th consecutive regional, opens this afternoon against in-state rival Jacksonville (42-17), three times a loser to their north Florida rival this season.

Florida State has not advanced to the College World Series since doing so for the third consecutive year in 2000. Since then, the Seminoles have lost in five consecutive super regionals, starting in 2001 here against Georgia.

"That was a first for Georgia," said Martin, who told the media in 2001 that it was a great environment but he never wanted to come back. "It catapulted their program to another level.

"But the way our season has gone this year I am tickled pink to be back up here," Martin said.

Georgia and Florida State are two teams headed in opposite directions. The Bulldogs finished the year with 17 wins in their past 20 games. The Seminoles limped home with a 9-14 record.

The turning point for Georgia came with a 7-5 loss to Western Carolina April 25. Earlier in the season the Bulldogs had shut out the Catamounts 11-0.

"It was a combination of things," Georgia coach David Perno said. "We hit rock bottom, and we understood that we were no different than anyone else. If we don't come and play like we are capable of we can get beat by anybody. But the flip side is, if we do what we can do, we can beat anybody."

Included in its strong finish was a 5-1 record at home against South Carolina and Kentucky, reversing a trend that had seen the Bulldogs lose home series to Alabama, Ole Miss and Tennessee.

By contrast, Georgia won four of five Southeastern Conference series on the road, including sweeps at Florida and Auburn.

"I think focus is a big key," said first baseman Josh Morris, the school's career home run leader. "Once we started winning, people figured out what it took to win and it carried over down the stretch."

Georgia will throw veteran Mickey Westphal (6-1, 4.96 ERA), who struggled in his past two starts.