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Georgia exceeding expectations with opportunity to host regional in year one

Palmber-Thombsby:Palmer Thombs05/26/24

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ATHENS, Ga. — The NCAA will announce 16 regional host sites Sunday night (8:30 p.m. ET), and Athens is expected to be among them. Whether Georgia ends up as a top-8 national seed with the inside track to a super regional at Foley Field remains to be seen and won’t be known until Monday (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2). However, to be in this position is something Josh Brooks only could have dreamed of a year ago when hiring Wes Johnson.

“I’m an optimistic person and always have those goals, but you want to be realistic when your coach is in your first year,” Brooks said on Thursday at the UGA Athletic Association Board of Directors meeting. “Really it’s a testament to the work he and his staff have done to transform the roster and get the young men to believe. The development they’ve done this year, this is exciting to be in this conversation. We haven’t hosted a regional since 2019, so to be in that situation where we’re debating we’re a top 8 seed or not is a fun place to be. I’m excited to see how it plays out and excited to be hosting regionals next weekend.”

It was a year ago that Brooks made the decision to part ways with head coach Scott Stricklin after 10 seasons on the job. Stricklin led Georgia to the NCAA Tournament three times (2018, 2019, 2022) with the Bulldogs as a top-8 national seed in the first two of those appearances. UGA failed to advance out of the regional round however, and with two missed tournaments in three seasons, it was time to move on.

Georgia conducted a national search and landed on Johnson from LSU. In the midst of a run to the College World Series with the Tigers, Johnson eventually made his way to Athens and started building his team.

It all started with keeping Charlie Condon. The SEC Freshman of the Year would’ve been a highly sought after prospect had he hit the transfer portal. He didn’t, and instead became the foundation for Johnson’s first team.

Condon couldn’t do it alone, and Georgia’s ability to recruit talented players around him like Kolby Branch (Baylor – SS), Slate Alford (Mississippi State – 2B/3B), Paul Toetz (Purdue – 2B/OF), Dillon Carter (Texas Tech – OF), Clayton Chadwick (Sam Houston State – OF), Dylan Goldstein (Florida Atlantic – OF) and Henry Hunter (UAB – C/OF), among others. His goal with the positions players was to focus on ones whose skills directly translated to Foley Field, a park built for power hitters. The result of those efforts? Georgia’s single season home run record.

As for the pitchers, there’s been improvements made too. It hasn’t been perfect by any means, but having almost a full year spent working with Johnson has helped guys like Leighton Finley, Kolten Smith, Zach Harris (Georgia Southern), Brian Zeldin (Penn) and Chandler Marsh.

The overall result of the efforts of Johnson (and his staff including Will Coggin, Josh Simpson and Brock Bennett) has been a special season in Athens. Georgia, picked sixth in the SEC East, finished sixth in the SEC overall. The Bulldogs won 17 games in conference competition, most since 2019, and went 22-1 against non-conference opponents. UGA built to win at Foley Field – as demonstrated by its 29-5 home record – and will in all likelihood have an opportunity to begin its postseason there.

Needless to say, year one has been a success, and there’s still a postseason to make things even more special. Chalk up Brooks’ decision to go a different direction with the baseball program last year as a plus already and look forward to even more exciting days ahead for the Bulldogs as time goes on with Wes Johnson.

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