Alex Hugo Joins Georgia Softball!

It has been announced that Alex Hugo has been released from the University of Kansas and will be joining the softball team here at the University of Georgia! This is a great day for Georgia Athletics and Georgia Softball! Alex Hugo absolutely dominated the competition as a rookie at Kansas in 2013! Hugo amassed an eye-popping .428 average, 45 RBIs, and 15 long balls…all of this as a first-year player in the Big 12. Not only did Hugo provide a high level of offensive output, but she also fielded her position near perfectly, committing just four errors over the course of the entire season.

Hugo

Alex Hugo reaches base in a 2013 contest while playing for the Kansas Jayhawks. (Courtesy Kansas Athletics)

When it was announced that Hugo was seeking to leave Kansas, I immediately thought at all the of the big-name schools that would go after her, and it crossed my mind that maybe someone in the SEC stood a shot. Hugo undoubtedly was approached by a number of schools and programs, but it appears to have come down between Georgia and LSU. I have to admit, I think this young lady will look much better in Red & Black than Purple & Gold! ūüėČ

The good thing about adding Hugo to the already-strong Georgia offense is that she consistently gets on base. In 2013, Hugo boasted a .498 on-base percentage and had a whopping 1.294 OBPS. This shows me that she can consistently reach base and get into scoring position and that she can also strike for major power also. She will fit in right at home at the top of this Bulldog order! I really think her and Malia Rivers are going to be a potent 1-2 punch if they just so happen to both be at the top of the order or 9-1, etc…

Questions may begin to arise as to where exactly Hugo will be playing in the field for Georgia, but I have a hunch that she will either be at third base or at second base. She may see some innings behind the plate, but it’s really hard to beat a catcher with the caliber of arm that Katie Browne has behind the dish. Katie should have the catching spot locked down for three more years to come! I would love to see Hugo over at third base so that we can add Swafford to the outfield and possibly have one of the fastest outfield units in the country. ¬†I have heard that Hugo is a defensive stud on the infield and wherever else she plays and so I am hoping she can take over the hot corner if Anna indeed moved to play the outfield. At the same time, Anna made some great plays in 2013 and towards the end of the season seemed to be very comfortable at third.

Guess we will have to wait and see how that pans out!

Cannot wait for Hugo to get to Athens, start classes, and join the Bulldogs on the diamond! Fall Ball is just around the corner, folks!

As always, Go Dawgs!

Alex Hugo collects a solid hit in a 2013 contest at home for Kansas.

Alex Hugo collects a solid hit in a 2013 contest at home for Kansas. (Courtesy Kansas Athletics)

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Looking Back & Looking Forward!

I really dropped the ball, no pun intended, with the blog as the end of the 2013 season approached. This post will give all of you Georgia Softball fans a quick recap of some of the awards and accomplishments Georgia garnered in 2013.

Georgia finished the 2013 season with an overall record of 40-21 to go along with making the  championship game of the Tempe Regional against the Arizona State Sun Devils. The keys to the pitching puzzle seemed to fit towards the end of the season as Montemayor and Wilkinson baffled opponents consistently for the last month of the season. Perhaps this will be a sign of things to come in the circle next year?! Last I heard, Geri Ann has been working very hard on her approach and spin in the off season and I super excited to see how she looks in the Fall.

For her outstanding performance at both the plate and in the circle in 2013, the NFCA tabbed Georgia rookie standout, Geri Ann Glasco, as a 3rd-Team All American. Paige Wilson was named an Easton 1st-Team All American, while Geri Ann Glasco and Kaylee Puailoa both garnered 2nd-Team honors.

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1st Team All-SEC and Easton 2nd Team All-American rookie slugger, Kaylee Puailoa, takes a healthy cut in a 2013 contest. (Courtesy GeorgiaDogs.com, shot by Evan Stichler)

Paige Wilson led the 2013 Georgia Bulldogs at the plate with a .403 average, 16 home runs, 66 RBI, and an impressive 1.169 OPS. Geri Ann Glasco (.363, 19 HR, 61 RBI, 1.204 OPS) and Kaylee Puailoa (.380, 16 HR, 54 RBI, 1.182 OPS) also put up monster numbers from the plate as rookies!

Georgia has two incoming freshmen that are poised to make an immediate impact in the form of Malia Rivers (Brentwood, CA) and Maeve McGuire (Downers Grove, IL). Over the Summer, Malia Rivers was tagged as the Player of the Year in the Bay Valley Athletic League and also earned 1st-Team All East Bay honors after batting .595 at the plate with a team-high 25 runs batted in. Over a thousand miles away from Malia, Maeve McGuire was racking up hits at the plate as well. In her senior season, the returning Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year batted a .515 clip with nine home runs and 51 RBIs. McGuire finished her career at Benet Academy with a .472 career average and 25 home runs.

Malia Rivers takes a swing in a 2013 game for Western High School. (Courtesy, The Press Online)

It is no secret that Georgia’s offense was just as explosive as it has been in recent years in 2013. I cannot begin to imagine about how powerful our offense can be in 2014 if things gradually are progressing and hard work is being put in over the Summer! I truly believe that Malia Rivers is going to be as good as they come in the SEC once she settles in. Combine her speed and athleticism with the power and discipline of Maeve McGuire and you have two stud rookies on your roster!

Pencil in a last second surprise or two, a transfer, and some much-needed improvements in pitching strategy and I think Georgia is going to give everyone a run for their money for the next three years. We have some pretty big match-ups in 2014, including finally getting to face off against Owen from Mississippi State and an already-looming match-up against Alabama in Tuscaloosa this time around. There is no doubt in my mind that if pitching would have been as good as it was in the end for the entire season, that the 2013 squad could have made it much further in the post season, but hey, that’s what it is all about…Learning!

I believe we can expect to see a much-improved pitching staff in 2014 in the form of Morgan Montemayor, Chelsea Wilkinson, and Geri Ann Glasco. If the hitting gets even 1% better from 2013 to 2014, we will still be able to out-hit a majority of the opponents we face, including most of the SEC programs. No doubt about it, we are not the only young team that is looking for a trophy…Kentucky, LSU, and Florida just to name a few.

With the graduation of the likes of Ivy Renfroe, Chelsea Thomas, Rachele Fico, Raven Chavanne, and others, the SEC becomes a wide-open race for the top spot. With their strong, reloaded offense, and with some improved work from the circle, I have complete confidence that the Bulldogs are going to pose a huge threat in 2014.

Here’s looking forward to another great season in 2014! To think, only two months or so until Fall Practices and three months away from some Fall Ball games! Bring it on!

As always, Go Dawgs!

No. 21 Georgia Heads to Tempe, Arizona for NCAA Regionals

Our 21st-ranked Georgia Bulldogs have their work cut out for them as they head to the 2013 NCAA Tempe Regional in Tempe, Arizona. The NCAA Regional is the first step to the 2013 Women’s College World Series, as teams must win their respective Regionals, followed by winning a best 2 of 3 format in the Super Regional Round before making it to the big dance in Oklahoma City. Georgia is certainly no stranger to the Regionals, and in fact have made it to the Regional round in the past 12 seasons consecutively. Georgia is also very familiar with the Super Regionals, having made it there in the past 6 consecutive years. This year’s Regional Round sends Georgia across the country, approximately 1,900 miles, to Tempe, Arizona where the round will be hosted by the 5th-seeded Arizona State Sun Devils. Our Bulldogs will not be the only visitors to Tempe this weekend, as San Diego State and San Jose State are both also participating and vying for a spot into the Super Regionals.

Georgia is 1-2 overall against the teams featured in the Tempe Regional, including an 0-2 mark all time against the Sun Devils, and a 1-0 tally over the San Diego State Aztecs. Georgia has never faced off against the Spartans of San Jose State, although it is a possibility that the two teams may get the chance to play for the first time ever in Tempe this weekend. It is noteworthy that the Dawgs are 44-22 in program history while playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Georgia will face the first obstacle standing in their way of an NCAA Super Regional in the form of the San Diego State Aztecs. The Bulldogs and the Aztecs will square off on Friday at 3:30 ET on ESPNU before the host Sun Devils will play San Jose State (also on ESPNU). With a win, Georgia will face the winner of the Sun Devils and the Spartans, but with a loss the Bulldogs will play the loser of the aforementioned teams. In order to win the Regional Round, Georgia will either have to win three consecutive contests or battle their way through the lower bracket and defeat the team with the undefeated record twice.

A huge good luck is in order for the Dawgs, but it goes without saying that they are going to do us proud and fight down to their very last out! The girls have been playing extremely good ball as of late and I believe in this team’s ability to make it back to Oklahoma City for the first time in three years! The Bulldog nation will be watching, as the Tempe Regional is one of the select few Regional Rounds to be broadcast live on national television via the ESPNU and WatchEspn networks. Gooooo Dawgs, Sic’ Em!

Seniors Tess Sito and Christine Olney are looking to go out in style in their final NCAA Tournament.

Seniors Tess Sito and Christine Olney are looking to go out in style in their final NCAA Tournament. (Courtesy Twitter, shot by Evan Stichler)

If the Bulldogs can escape victoriously out of Tempe, which will not be an easy feat, I really like our chances in a Super Regional. If our Dawgs were to hypothetically win their Regional, they would face the winner of the Lexington Regional. The Lexington Regional features the host Kentucky Wildcats, the Irish of Notre Dame, as well as the Hokies of Virginia Tech and the Thundering Herd of Marshall. I would personally rather face any of those four teams over the Arizona State Sun Devils! What makes our Regional so much more difficult than the other Regionals is that the average RPI of teams in Tempe average out to be the highest RPI overall when compared to the four-team combos in other Regionals.

The host-team and national #5-seeded Arizona State Sun Devils enter the Tempe Regional with an impressive 45-10 record, with a minimal three losses coming at home. What makes the Sun Devils so dangerous is their ability to score lots of runs via their speed and power, all while possessing two dynamic and outstanding pitchers in the circle. You rarely find a team that can hit the ball as well and as hard as Arizona State does, but it is even more rare to find a team that has two pitchers like Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue. Combine the deadly offensive numbers with their stellar pitching and you have one tough group in the form of the Sun Devils. While they have shown that they waiver at times, more particularly with some recent series losses to struggling Arizona and Pac-12 bottom feeders, Utah, the Sun Devils are a team that can regroup and reload from one outing to the next. It goes without saying that they will be a tough test, but I think our Dawgs have enough diversity in the circle and certainly enough offense to really do some damage while in Tempe.

In the circle, Arizona State is led by an excellent duo of junior hurlers in the form of Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue. Not only is Dallas Escobedo a formidable opponent in the circle, but she has shown just how good she can be when she won the National Championship as a rookie in 2011 in the WCWS Finals against the Florida Gators. Dallas Escobedo enters post season play sporting a modest 2.31 ERA to go along with a fantastic 25-4 record. Dallas is the epitome of a pitcher that relies on the strikeout as she has fanned a whopping 289 batters in only 209 innings thrown. Although her numbers are slightly elevated this season, do not let them fool you because Escobedo has the experience and is the real deal. Escobedo is a phenomenal athlete, although when teams have been able to find a chink in her armor, she has often fell apart mid-game or been tagged for a plethora of runs. Escobedo relies predominantly on the rise ball and she has the ability to throw both a low rise ball and a rise ball out of the zone. What makes Dallas so good is her ability to make opposing batters guess as to whether she is coming with a low rise or high rise, although when teams have laid off of the high rise and waited on her to come into the zone, they have been very successful. It helps that Arizona State has the option to go to their solid co-Ace behind Escobedo in the form of Mackenzie Popescue. Popescue enters the Regional Round with a 19-6 record, a 2.03 earned run average, all while striking out 100 batters in 134.1 innings pitched. Popescue brings a totally different look from Escobedo in that she throws much slower, has a great off-speed and good precision. I feel confident about our plate discipline against Escobedo and I really do not think that Popescue would pose much of a challenge if we indeed get the opportunity to face her.

Arizona State’s Dallas Escobedo delivers a pitch in a 2013 contest.¬†(Courtesy ESPN.com)

Where Arizona State wreaks the most havoc, or at least in 2013, is at the plate. The Sun Devils are only one home run behind the Georgia Bulldogs with 89 bombs on the season. Not only can these girls from Tempe strike with power, but they also all hit for average. While the Sun Devils possess a lot of power at the plate, they also have an array of lefty slappers that set the table for the big hits. If Georgia can limit the power as well as the free passes, I think we will have a lot of success against the Sun Devils. Arizona State is led at the plate by Amber Freeman (.385, 16 HR, 58 RBI) and Bethany Kemp (.374, 9 HR, 23 RBI). It would be naive to think that these are the only two players who supply power and runs driven in for the Sun Devils as Sam Parlich (.360, 10 HR, 41 RBI) and Cheyenne Coyle (.364, 19 HR, 60 RBI) both are excellent at the dish also. Also worth noting, lefty slapper Bailey Wigness (.365) is third on the team in average and is a constant table setter for the Sun Devils. Clint Meyer’s Sun Devils are a formidable offense and one of the best in the country without a doubt. If Georgia can mix speeds and movement enough in the circle in order to keep ASU guessing, I think we can outscore them in some very close games.

ASU middle infielder and Florida-transfer, Cheyenne Coyle, fields a ball in a home game at Farrington Stadium.

ASU middle infielder and Florida-transfer, Cheyenne Coyle, fields a ball in a home game at Farrington Stadium. (Courtesy Arizona State Athletics)

Although the Sun Devils of Arizona State are certainly the favorite and top-seeded team in the Regional, it would be unwise to overlook our first match-up with a very dynamic San Diego State team. San Diego State comes into Tempe with a similar record to the Bulldogs at 35-18. The Aztecs are a very well-balanced team with respect to pitching, defense, and offensive performance. Although their power numbers and team average are much lower than the Dawgs, this San Diego State team has gotten some clutch power hitting from Lorena Bauer and Patrice Jackson. Lorena Bauer (.421, 13 HR, 49 RBI) and Patrice Jackson (.368, 14 HR, 41 RBI) are the team’s leading hitters for average, home runs, and RBIs. Georgia pitching has often fell susceptible to the long ball, and it will be imperative to keep these two Aztec hitters in the park in order to pull out a victory. Not to be overlooked, the Aztecs have found much of their success in 2013 on the back of their two main pitchers, rookie Danielle O’Toole and senior Rebecca Arbino. O’Toole enters the Regional with a 14-6 record to accompany her 1.71 ERA, all while having fanned 111 batters in 143 innings pitched. With more overall experience and innings in the circle, Arbino heads the pitching staff with a 20-12 record, 1.96 earned run average, and all while striking out 196 batters in 207.1 innings pitched.

Assuming we put bat to ball, get some good pitching performances in the circle, and play well on defense, we should be able to power our way through this very talented and experienced Aztecs squad. The last thing we want to do is come out flat and play bad defense, in turn giving away free passes and free runs that will only hamper our overall performance. Friday cannot get here soon enough as I really think this will be a great match-up to open up the Tempe Regional.

Finally, rounding out the four teams in the Tempe Regional are the WAC Champions, the San Jose State Spartans. The Spartans are headed by Head Coach Peter Turner, who it is worth mentioning is also the Head Coach of the USA Men’s National Fastpitch Team. San Jose State has played some very talented teams this year and have given some big time schools some very stiff competition. The Spartans of SJSU have played the likes of Hawaii, UCLA, California, Oregon, and Oregon State just to name a few. Playing this caliber of competition will surely have SJSU prepared for any team they may meet in the postseason, Arizona State included. Entering the Tempe Regional with an impressive 40-15 overall record, the Spartans are looking to get thing going with an upset as they take on the Sun Devils. The Spartans are led at the plate by Michelle Cox (.373, 1 HR, 22 RBI), Markesha Collins (.356, 9 HR, 36 RBI), and Jessie Hufstetler (.321, 3 HR, 27 RBI). Although they are an overall decent hitting squad, the SJSU Spartans have garnered much of their success in 2013 thanks to some absolutely brilliant pitching performances by Amanda Pridmore. Pridmore has tallied a 29-9 record, 1.51 ERA, and has also picked up a ton of strikeouts as she has fanned 250 batters in 249.2 innings. When San Jose State is the #4 seed in your Regional, you know the competition is stiff and that truly anyone could advance to the Super Regionals. With Pridmore in the circle and the Spartan offense clicking, it would not surprise me to see San Jose State succeed in the post season.

San Jose State’s pitching staff is led by Amanda Pridmore (pictured above).¬†(Courtesy San Jose State Athletics)

While the future of Georgia Softball’s 2013 season hangs in the balance, only one thing can be for sure: we are in for a treat as we will get to see and play against some terrific competition in Tempe this weekend. Despite what does or does not happen in Tempe, words cannot describe how much fun I have had following and chronicling this Georgia squad so far this season. From the early season struggles, to slowly finding their identity over the ensuing months, to tallying a winning record against ranked opponents in the home stretch of the season, it has been an enthralling season to be a part of and watch. I think Georgia’s dividends have been paid as the team has put their complete trust in what Lu, Gerry, and Tara have been teaching them. This year’s group has truly believed in the process and committed to the G with an amazing effort and sense of dedication. It just goes to show how softball, like in many sports, is not always about how you start the season, but instead how you finish. When this team plays their “A” game, there is not a team in the nation that they cannot succeed against. I wish that my work and lesson schedule permitted me to make the almost-2000 mile cross-crountry trip to Tempe, but alas I will be watching from here in Athens. If we make it to Super Regionals, bet your butts that I will be there screaming, cheering, and chanting for the Bulldogs in Lexington or wherever it may be. Never give up Dawgs and represent Bulldog Nation with a complete effort in every inning of every contest. We believe! I believe!

As always, Go Dawgs!

#RoadToWCWS          #DominateTempe          #CommitToTheG

Bulldogs Dominate LSU, Fall Short to Gators in SEC Semifinals

Although the 2013 SEC Tournament did not end up going exactly how the 23rd-ranked Georgia Bulldogs would have liked, the girls from Athens showed a heck of a lot of fight en route to a tie for third place overall out of ten very talented programs. Chelsea Wilkinson pitched an absolute gem in the Quarterfinals against 9th-ranked LSU, blanking the Tigers in her complete-game effort. After knocking LSU out of the tournament via a 7-0 score, Georgia fell to the eventual champions and 3rd-ranked Florida Gators by a 9-5 final margin. Trailing 9-0 heading into the 5th inning of play, it looked as if the Bulldogs were ready to pack their bags and head home in their first mercy rule loss of the year, but the Bulldogs refused to roll over. Georgia mounted an aggressive comeback in the final three innings of the contest with Florida and managed to pull within four runs. But alas, the rally fell just short and the Bulldogs fell to the Gators for the third time in 2013.

Congratulations to Chelsea Wilkinson and Paige Wilson for garnering All SEC Tournament honors and congratulations to the rest of the team on some well-played ball while in Lexington. It brings me a lot of excitement to see that we were able to tack on five runs off of Hannah Rogers in the second half of the SEC Semifinals. We ended the game by playing aggressive softball at the dish and in the field, and this is what leads me to believe that we will carry tons of positive momentum into the NCAA Regional Round that begins on either Thursday or Friday of this week.

Chelsea Wilkinson earned SEC All-Tournament Honors to go along with her All-Freshman Honors from earlier in the week.

Chelsea Wilkinson earned SEC All-Tournament Honors to go along with her All-Freshman Honors from earlier in the week. (Courtesy The Red & Black)

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In Thursday’s match-up with the Bayou Bengals, Georgia jumped on the board in the top of the third inning thanks to a Katie Browne solo home run off the first pitch she saw from Rachele Fico. The Bulldogs would continue to put runs on the scoreboard in the top of the 5th inning thanks to a two-run single through the left side off the bat of Kaylee Puailoa. With the score situated at 3-0, Tess Sito drew a lead-off walk, was sacrificed to second on a perfect bunt from Christine Olney, and eventually came around to score after Niaja Griffin singled and forced an LSU fielding error to make the score 4-0. Georgia continued to pad their lead in the final frame of play by plating three final runs. With the bases loaded, Tina Iosefa was hit by a pitch and another run scored afterwards on a a fielder’s choice off the bat of Tess Sito. Georgia scored their final run of the contest by executing a perfect double steal by Tess Sito and Kaylee “Moose” Puailoa.

Chelsea did not throw a good game, but instead threw an absolutely genius game against the LSU Tigers. In the complete game effort, Wilkinson scattered just five hits and allowed no runs to cross the plate. With the victory, Chelsea Wilkinson picked up her fourth win over a Top 25 program (Texas A&M, Florida, LSU twice…) in the past month! Go Chelsea!

In the Saturday Semifinal match-up against the 3rd-ranked Florida Gators, Geri Ann Glasco got the start in the circle and appeared to be in an early groove before getting tagged for four earned runs off of two Gator home runs. After striking out Kelsey Stewart and popping up Kirsti Merritt, Glasco followed by surrendering two, two-run blasts off the bats of Lauren Haeger and Taylor Schwartz. Morgan Montemayor replaced Glasco in the circle and would end up surrendering five runs, only two of which were earned, in the final 5.1 innings of work. After the Gators padded their lead on the back of another Schwartz home run and RBI hits from Stewart and Tofft, things were not looking too good for our Bulldogs. With the score standing at 9-0 entering the top of the 5th inning of play, it appeared that Georgia was in line to suffer their first mercy rule loss of the season. But alas, the Bulldogs showed the fight that they are well known for and managed to tag Hannah Rogers for five runs late in the contest.

With the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Niaja Griffin grounded out to the left side for an RBI and made the score 9-1 in favor of the Gators. Paige Wilson then followed with a hot-shot double down the right field line to plate a pair of Georgia runs to bring the score to a 9-3 margin. After a quiet sixth inning, Georgia mounted yet another rally in the top of the 7th and final frame of play. After back-to-back singles off the bats of Browne and LaZear got the inning started, Paige Wilson picked up her third and fourth RBIs of the game on a single through the right side to bring the score to a managebale 9-5 tally. The late Bulldog rally fell just short as the final two outs of the contest were recorded and the Gators moved on to face Missouri in the finals.

Paige Wilson finished the SEC Tournament with a .500 average and 4 RBIs en route to All-Tournament Honors.

Paige Wilson finished the SEC Tournament with a .500 average and 4 RBIs en route to All-Tournament Honors. (Courtesy GeorgiaDogs.com, shot by Evan Stichler)

Florida defeated Missouri in the nightcap by a 10-4 final score, which made me feel much better about our performance. It felt good to know that we gave up less runs and also scored more runs against Florida than did the second place Missouri Tigers. With the win against Missouri, the 3rd-ranked Florida Gators won both the Regular Season SEC Title and the SEC Tournament Title. Congratulations to the Gators and a very stellar regular season and here’s hoping that we may get another shot at them in the post season! Stinkin’ Gators! ūüėČ

Georgia will find out their post season fate on Sunday night at 10pm when the NCAA D1 Softball Selection Show will be aired live on ESPNU. Be sure not to miss it! This postseason is sure to be one of the better ones in the last 5-6 years because with the exception of Oklahoma, the field is wide open for anyone to take! I would like to think that with the right draw, our Georgia Bulldogs have a great chance of making it far and doing us fans even more proud than they already have!

As always, Go Dawgs!

#RoadToWCWS          #CommitToTheG          #BombSquadPuppies

No. 24 Georgia Concludes Regular Season in Athens Against No. 7 LSU

Our 24th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs will conclude the 2013 Regular Season at home against the 7th-ranked LSU Tigers from Baton Rouge this Friday-Sunday in the friendly confines of Jack Turner Stadium. LSU enters Athens after convincingly sweeping Alabama at Tiger Stadium.  The Tigers have improved their record greatly in comparison to this time time last year and are sporting an impressive 40-11 (15-6 SEC) tally. Not only has the entire LSU squad improved in part because of some stellar rookie players, but also because of the veteran ace in the circle, Rachele Fico. Fico will enter Athens as the reigning NFCA National Player of the Week after notching two wins against a very quality Alabama Crimson Tide team.

At the beginning of the season, many people doubted what exactly LSU would be capable of in the SEC with such a young squad and virtually no pitching depth behind Fico. The Tigers have made a lot of people eat crow as they have shown that they not only have a great number-two pitcher behind Fico (Ashley Czechner; 10-0, 2.37 ERA), but that their offense is capable of outscoring many quality opponents. The Tigers have many impressive wins on their resumé in 2013, Michigan, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kentucky to name just a few. Currently, the No. 7 Tigers are sitting atop the SEC West Standings and are looking to capture the SEC with a big sweep over our Bulldogs. Last year, Rachele Fico and Erin Arevalo opened up the series in Baton Rough with a 15-inning thriller that I will never forget. Georgia ended up claiming the victory in the 15th inning when Niaja Griffin scored on a misplayed ball at first base off the bat of then-rookie, Niaja Griffin. Georgia claimed the second game, and the series, in 6-1 fashion before falling by a 1-0 margin in the series finale. Beth Torina, Rachele Fico, and the rest of this feisty LSU Tigers team enter Athens with a chip on their shoulder after dropping the series to the Bulldogs in Baton Rouge in 2012. It goes without saying that they will be looking to repay the favor by winning the series against No. 24 Georgia in Athens.

This weekend home series is special for several reasons, most notably because of Georgia bidding farewell to their three Senior players: Tess Sito, Christine Olney, and Maya Branch. At Saturday’s pre-game Senior Day Ceremony, Georgia fans will say goodbye to the three Dawg Seniors. Georgia parents, coaches, and fans, myself included, have loved having the opportunity to watch these three talented young ladies don the Red and Black uniform. Each senior athlete on this year’s team has brought something unique to the team and it has really helped guide the team to some key wins.

Georgia's three seniors--Maya Branch, Christine Olney, & Tess Sito--pose for the camera before playing against Florida.

Georgia’s three seniors–Maya Branch, Christine Olney, & Tess Sito–pose for the camera before playing against Florida.¬†(Courtesy UGA’s Brother Photography)

You cannot say enough about the persistence of Maya Branch, who after leaving the team a couple of years ago, decided to return and finish her career as a Georgia Bulldog. Maya has great speed on the bases and has played a great right field when called upon to do so. Although it seems as if Tess Sito just arrived in Athens yesterday, Bulldog fans will watch Tess Sito play her last game in Jack Turner Stadium on Sunday against LSU. In 2012, Sito was an integral part of Georgia’s success in the circle and at the plate. In 2013, she has played a stud second base and has been tremendous at the plate as well. I am excited to follow Tess Sito as she ventures into the NPF Pro League next year to play with former Bulldogs Brianna Hesson and Erin Arevalo on the Akron Racers. Christine Olney, the only 4-year Georgia Bulldog player on this year’s team, has been such a fun, high-energy player to watch over the past four seasons. She has played well at whatever position she has been placed at–second base, left field, first base, and right field to name a few. Not only has she played great defense and been a team leader in 2013, but her bat has came alive as she had had a career year at the plate. She has not only continued to bat for average, but she has been extremely clutch and has driven in game-tying and game-winning runs on several occasions. It goes without saying that these players will be missed in Athens, but they are all destined to do great things in the future! ConGRADulations Tess, Maya, and Christine!!!

This weekend will also be an important one because Sunday marks the annual Pink Game for the Georgia Softball team. Georgia will wear a set of hot pink Jerseys in the Sunday contest against LSU as part of their annual Strike Out Cancer weekend. After Game 3 is complete, the team will host a Silent Jersey Auction that will benefit breast cancer research. The first 300 fans to Game 3 will receive free pink and black UGA arm sleeves, although all fans will receive free pink UGA shakers. At Sunday’s contest, UGA Softball Pink Tees will be available with a minimum donation of five dollars. Of course, all contributions will go to benefit breast cancer research. This is such a great event and there is something so fun about watching these tough girls play in the bubblegum-pink uniforms! Go Pink Dawgs! ūüėÄ

Although the primary success that LSU has been experiencing in 2013 has been centered around stellar pitching from Rachele Fico, the Bayou Bengals have also flexed their muscles at the plate this season. The Tigers are led at the plate by the slapper duo of Jacee Blades and A.J. Andrews. Blades (.366, 21 RBI) and Andrews (.354, 29 RBI) have found ways to get on base all season long and are an absolute nightmare on opposing defenses because of their above average speed out of the box. LSU has gotten their supply of power at the plate from their breakout rookie shortstop, Bianka Bell. If the last name sounds familiar, that is because it should. Bianka’s older sister, Brittany Bell, is a senior slugger for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Bianka Bell is currently batting a .340 clip with 11 home runs and 45 runs driven in. Without a doubt, this young athlete is going to be a phenomenal player to watch over the next four seasons for the Tigers. Although offense has been somewhat anemic in past seasons for LSU, Beth Torina seems to have placed an equal focus on offense and defense for this club. The bats have improved and when they are on, they are tough to beat with Rachele Fico in the circle.

LSU’s Bianka Bell makes contact with the ball in a 2013 contest at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge.¬†(Courtesy LSUsports.net)

As mentioned previously, Rachele Fico has been at the core of LSU’s success in 2013. In 2012, Fico was able to combine with Brittany Mack to get the Bayou Bengals back to the Oklahoma City for the first time in a very long time. In 2013, Rachele Fico has exceeded expectations and shown that she has been able to be the workhorse for the up and coming LSU Tigers. On the season, Fico has compiled a 24-9 record to go along with a 1.98 ERA, all while striking out 212 batters in 201.1 innings pitched. Fico was good as a freshman, but has steadily improved each and every season. Slowly but surely, Fico has developed into of the premiere pitchers in the country and will be an excellent test for the Bulldog offense right before the post season begins. What makes Rachele Fico so good is that she possesses near pinpoint ball location skills. She paints the corners in all parts of the zone very well, although when she does not get an umpire behind the plate that calls the corners, she can tend to issue a lot of free passes. The key to hitting the ball hard against Fico is as simple as picking out the closest pitch she throws to the strike zone and putting a good swing on it. Fico, like many other good pitchers, relies on batters to chase her up-and-out pitches, in turn striking out many batters on pitches that are never going to be called strikes. As the Bulldogs learned against Hannah Rogers in Gainesville this past weekend, you have to be patient at the plate and make the pitcher throw pitches near the plate in order to get solid hits and base runners.

Although Fico has been the predominant workhorse in the circle for the Tigers, Beth Torina has also turned to JUCO transfer, Ashley Czechner, and Meghan Patterson for some contests. In terms of likelihood for this weekend, I say that we will see Fico in Games 1 and 3, and we will get a full game of Czechner on Saturday. Patterson has been primarily used against some of the lighter parts of LSU’s schedule and is carrying a 6-2 record to go along with a 1.62 earned run average. Czechner has pitched the second highest amount of innings in 2013 for the Tigers and has truly excelled in SEC league play. Czechner has compiled a spotless 10-0 record to go with a 2.37 ERA. Not particularly a pitcher that relies on the strikeout, Czechner has only fanned 59 batters in 79.2 innings pitched. Czechner brings a completely different approach than does Rachele Fico. Czechner throws a good bit slower, relies predominantly on off-speed and spin pitches, but has been effective all year at inducing weak pop ups and lazy fly balls. It is very possible that we could get some hard hits against Rachele Fico, but be completely ¬†baffled by Czechner if we do not study some film on her. In some ways, Czechner is similar to Ainsley from Texas A&M, although Czechner spins and locates the ball with much greater precision.

This year’s edition of Georgia Softball has been a roller coaster ride to remember for sure! There have been times when I felt like I wanted to pull all of my hair out, although there have been times when I find myself screaming and cheering at the top of my lungs in Athens and elsewhere as the Dawgs have hit their share of bombs, beaten some quality opponents, and made some memories to last a lifetime! The year started off with high expectations, and although things were not always smooth sailing, this year’s team has gotten better each and every time they have taken the field. Now, as the curtain closes on the 2013 Regular Season, Georgia seems to be peaking at the right time on the back of some stellar pitching and timely hitting. Although Games 2 and 3 against Florida could have went better, I think it says a lot that we played three close games after having such a hard time earlier in the year against some unranked foes. This is the most a single Georgia team has improved in a single season in as long as I can remember, and to think that this is only a glimpse of the bright future of Georgia Softball.

Rachele Fico delivers a pitch in a 2013 SEC contest. (Courtesy LSU Athletics)

I am proud to be a Georgia fan and do not think I could find a more exciting group of young student athletes. Momentum is building for the Bulldogs as the SEC Tournament and post season nears, and while the girls are still going to face their fair share of tough obstacles before the season is over, the Georgia nation is committed and believes in this team! If we can take the series from LSU here in Athens, then I think the possibilities are endless for Georgia as the post season begins. It will all depend on who we draw, but with the rigorous SEC schedule that Georgia played in the regular season, there is no way that the girls are not prepared for any team that crosses their path for the remainder of the season.

Although people say first impressions are everything, I have never been a big fan of that statement. Georgia has shown that they are constantly getting better and battling against some quality opponents for a full seven innings. It is not about how you start, but rather, it is all about how you finish. The goal of this season is to play harder than ever before and to win the last game of the season. Getting hot at the right time can be integral to this Georgia program returning to Super Regionals, and, if everything falls into place, Oklahoma City.  Finish the drill, Bulldogs!

As always, Go Dawgs!

#BeatLSU          #CommitToTheG          #RoadToWCWS

 

23rd-Ranked Bulldogs Host Georgia State in Midweek Showdown

The 23rd-ranked University of Georgia Softball team welcomes the Georgia State Panthers to Jack Turner Stadium for¬†the final midweek contest of the year. Georgia leads the all-time series over the Panthers by a decisive 10-2 margin and has not lost to Georgia State since 2000. In last year’s meeting between the two in-state foes, Georgia claimed a 7-0 victory. In the meeting before that, the two teams faced off in the 2011 Athens NCAA Regional where Georgia claimed an 8-0 run-rule victory over the Panthers. Georgia State is a program on the rise and has had much success in 2013 under Head Coach Roger Kincaid. I am looking forward to the game tomorrow, as it should be a good one!

Georgia State enters Athens with a 32-16 record, including an impressive 10-5 CAA conference record. The Panthers are coming off of a three-game sweep of the Drexel Dragons, and have now won six games in a row dating back to a 1-0 victory over UNC Wilmington. Georgia State made a visit to Athens back during Fall Ball and was defeated twice in two very good contests. At that time, I was impressed with the offense of the Panthers, although they have a steady array of pitchers also. It is worth mentioning that Georgia State has recorded a 1-2 record against SEC teams in 2013. The Panthers lost to Mississippi State 9-1 in their season-opening tournament before defeating Auburn 4-1 and losing to Alabama 9-1. This team pulled off a major upset over Alabama last year just before they went on to win the National Championship, so it goes without saying that the Panthers are a very capable program.

On offense, Georgia State is led by Callie Alford. Alford is leading the team in average with a .363 clip and has driven in 41 runs on the season to go along with 9 home runs. After being injured for most of the season, Senior star Paige Nowacki has returned to the Panther line-up and is batting a .211 clip with 12 home runs. Despite her comparatively low batting average, Paige Nowacki is a difference maker for this program and has been for four years. She is great in the field and is even better at the plate. Needless to say, we cannot underestimate this player based on her uncharacteristic numbers in 2013.

Despite getting off to a relatively sluggish start, the Georgia State pitching staff has really picked up the slack as of late. In the circle, the Panthers are led by Kaitlyn Medlam who has amassed a 17-6 record in 2013 to go along with a 2.29 ERA, 159 innings pitched, and 97 strikeouts. Behind her, Katie Worley has earned a 12-9 record, 3.27 ERA, and has fanned 92 batters in 130.2 innings thrown.

Georgia State’s Kaitlyn Medlam delivers a pitch in a 2013 contest (Courtesy Georgia State Athletics)

Any time two in-state foes come together, crazy things can happen. Georgia State has played some close games in the past with our Bulldogs, and I would expect them to come out fighting hard tomorrow to pull off the upset. I have no idea who the coaches will turn to in the circle, although with Montemayor’s hot weekend, it couldn’t hurt to turn to her. If we are lucky, we may get to use multiple pitchers tomorrow in order to get some innings in before the big Florida series.

Georgia is back in the Top 25 after several weeks of being unranked. Georgia currently sits at #23 in the USA Softball Top 25 after a three-game sweep of the then-#13 Texas A&M Aggies. I think being back in the poll is often overrated, but in this case should give some of the younger Dawgs some much-needed confidence and swagger. The girls are playing very confidently right now and I really hope they can keep it up against some very good programs to close the regular season on a good note!

Don’t forget fans, tomorrow’s game against Georgia State is $1 Hot Dog Night at Jack Turner Stadium! Come out and have a great time with us!

As always, Go Dawgs!

#WeRunThisState          #CommitToTheG         #RoadToWCWS

Bulldogs Sweep 13th-Ranked Texas A&M

(VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS HERE)
Georgia Softball earned their second Southeastern Conference series in as many weekends, this time thanks to a three-game sweep of the 13th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies. After winning 3-1 on Friday and 12-7 on Saturday, Georgia finished up the weekend strong with a hard-fought 6-3 victory over the Aggies. Morgan Montemayor picked up the win in the circle on Saturday and Sunday, improving her record to 11-6 on the 2013 campaign. On Sunday, MoMo pitched five innings, gave up one earned run, struck out two, and walked just one batter. This sport is all about timely leadership and getting “hot” at the right time of the season…if you ask me, I think the girls are all stepping up big time, especially the pitching staff! Today’s game, once again, gave us an opportunity to see how good we can really be when we play error-free ball and have smart base-running to go along with some STELLAR pitching!

Thoughts go out to Aggie senior pitcher, Mel Dumezich, on a speedy recovery if she is indeed in pain or injured. One must assume that she is hurt after not seeing her in the line-up whatsoever in the final two games. The Aggies are a superb team with her in the circle, but this weekend showed how vulnerable they can be when they do not score runs behind their second and third string pitchers. I wish all the best of luck to A&M for the remainder of the season!

On another note, I really hope this win can get us back into one or both of the Top 25 Polls. I think that would really boost the girls’ confidence even more and get them pumped up for the big series with Florida next weekend! Without a doubt, the RPI will get a big boost after beating the #12 RPI team back-to-back-to-back in convincing fashion. The motto for this year’s team should definitely focus on finishing strong, after all, it is all about how you respond and how you finish! It is an exciting time to be a Georgia Softball fan, as I think this team has endless potential and is really going to come on even stronger here in the closing two weeks of SEC play. We have to face the Gators in Gainesville before coming home to host the LSU Tigers in Athens. It is not going to be easy, but we all know that already! Hard work pays off, Dawgs! Keep it up!

Tina Iosefa hit a 2-run home run and was 3-4 at the plate on Sunday against Texas A&M

Tina Iosefa hit a 2-run home run and was 3-4 at the plate on Sunday against Texas A&M (Courtesy GeorgiaDogs.com, shot by Evan Stichler)

In today’s outing, the weather was beautiful and the crowd was even better! Georgia got the scoring going in the opening frame of the contest thanks in part to a leadoff slap single up the middle by Niaja Griffin. Man, Aja was a tough out to come by this weekend for the Aggies…seeing nothing but good from Niaja right now! Love it! After Niaja singled and stole second base, she would eventually be knocked in off a two-out RBI single from Kaylee Puailoa! It’s the¬†Year of the Moooooose, ladies and gentlemen! The best part of this plate appearance by Moose was that she did not have to do anything fancy to score Aja from second. With two strikes on her, Kaylee simply hit a single into right field off the end of the bat on a pretty good change-up from A&M’s Ainsley. Could we finally be sitting back on the off-speed and driving it? This is a huge improvement and has caused us grief in the past, so it goes without saying that it is awesome to see us hit a plethora of good hits this weekend off of Ainsley’s change-up.

In the top of the 2nd inning, the Aggies loaded the bases and scored two runs off a slap single up the middle off the bat of Brittany Clopton. In the bottom of the frame, all while trailing 2-1, Tess Sito laid down a beautiful bunt single and then promptly stole second base. Anna Swafford followed by drawing a walk and advanced to second after Katie Browne sacrifice bunted both runners over. A fielder’s choice slap off the bat of Sam LaZear tied the contest at 2-2, and Niaja Griffin continued her hot streak with a slap RBI single to the pitcher. Georgia would hold off scoring any more runs until the sixth inning when Tina Iosefa belted a two-run home run off the foul pole in left field. The bomb by Tina was her 14th of the season and Georgia’s nation-leading 82nd of the 2013 season. Georgia would add one last insurance run off a pinch-hit single from Christine Olney that was stroked hard into right field.

Texas A&M tried to mount a rally after a leadoff home run in the 7th inning off the bat of Amber Garza. This was Garza’s second home run of the weekend after she crushed a pitch from Chelsea Wilkinson earlier in the series. This would be all of the scoring that Texas A&M would be able to manage as Morgan Montemayor made a web gem snag off a rocket up the middle from Nicole Morgan just before popping up Meagan May for the final out of the contest. With the win, Georgia improves to 34-15 on the year and 11-7 in SEC play. With the loss, the 13th-ranked Aggies fall to 35-12 overall and 6-11 in conference play.

Samantha LaZear relays a throw back to the infield in a game against Texas A&M

Samantha LaZear relays a throw back to the infield in a game against Texas A&M (Courtesy GeorgiaDogs.com, shot by Evan Stichler)

The defense looks much better, LaZear and Niaja are on fire, and pitching is absolutely dominating! It is worth noting that Niaja and Sam combined to go 12-23 (.523 average) this week. WOW! What a great weekend of Georgia Bulldog Softball, eh Dawg fans? Not only have our speedy lefties been absolute Hell on opposing defenses as of late, but our bats are becoming more and more clutch with each and every game. The thing that is so awesome about this year’s squad is that when one of the players are not producing in a certain game or situation, another kid steps up and makes a big play, throws a good pitch, or gets a clutch hit. There is no definitive superstar on this team, despite each and every girl putting up absolute STUD numbers this season. There is a positive energy surrounding this young club right now and I truly think the sky is the limit! The question marks that were surrounding this year’s squad were never a matter of “If” but rather a question concerning “When” they would settle in and start shaping up. I think that time is NOW and I am so excited to get to see the girls face off against two talented SEC squads in the form of the Florida Gators and LSU Tigers.

Before heading to the Swamp for a three-game series with Florida, Georgia will face Georgia State ¬†on Wednesday at 6pm in the friendly confines of Jack Turner Stadium. Wednesday night’s contest with Georgia State is “$1 Hot Dog Night” fans so be sure to come pig out and see some great softball. ūüėÄ

As always, Go Dawgs!

#CommitToTheG          #BombSquadPuppies          #RoadToWCWS

Tess Sito slides into second base on a beautifully executed steal against Texas A&M

Tess Sito slides into second base on a beautifully executed steal against Texas A&M (Courtesy GeorgiaDogs.com, shot by Evan Stichler)