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Wes Johnson, Corey Collins soak up special night for Georgia Baseball

Palmber-Thombsby:Palmer Thombs06/03/24

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ATHENS, Ga. — Sunday night was a special one in Athens, seeing Georgia clinch its regional at Foley Field with an exciting extra innings win over in-state rival Georgia Tech. After heartbreak in back to back seasons hosting regionals in Athens but failing to advance in 2018 and 2019, the disappointment of a promising season cut short in 2020 and the years that followed, the Bulldogs are headed to a place they haven’t been in 16 seasons: the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Whether it’s your first year or your final year with the program, there was reason to be grateful. While many would point to head coach Wes Johnson as the biggest difference, Johnson, who was hired a year ago later this week, put the praise on others. He had plenty of people to thank for the program’s success after the 8-6 win.

“I’m going to start tonight with some thank yous. I think it’s important anytime you have success at a program and pull off something like this, it takes a lot of people,” Johnson said to open his postgame press conference late Sunday night. “Our families sacrifice a lot so we’ll start with them. President Morehead and Josh Brooks, their vision not only for the athletic program but this University in general is something I think is special. I’ve been a lot of places, and it’s second to none here.”

“Our grounds crew today and all week was phenomenal. Our coaching staff and their families and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about our fans,” he continued. “I’d rival what I saw tonight at Foley Field with any place in the SEC. It was loud, they were awesome and engaged.”

Johnson is absolutely right to offer up those thank yous. The program is in a completely different place from when he was hired and more is on the way with upcoming facility upgrades too. Folks around town are excited about Georgia Baseball once again.

 “You just got to go out there and do your job,” Johnson said when asked how it is he’s turned things around this quickly. “The biggest reason I wanted to thank them, the support we get from them, that was a big draw for me. Their vision, they were passionate about what they wanted to do here and the university and where they wanted athletics to go. That passion, that drive to get to a level that they want to get to, yeah, you get excited.”

“It takes everybody. It’s not just me here,” he continued. “It takes our coaching staff, it takes our support staff, the grounds crew – it takes everybody if you’re going to be successful. It’s hard to push the rock uphill both ways so to speak, so I think it’s important those people are mentioned, because without them I don’t think we’re here.”

Johnson hoisted a national championship trophy last season as the pitching coach at LSU, and while his Bulldogs have a long way to go to get to where the Tigers were in Omaha, beating Georgia Tech was a first step. Georgia will now host a super regional in Athens this coming weekend with No. 10 NC State coming to town. Take two of three from the Wolfpack and it would be on to the College World Series where things get even tougher playing away from home.

Georgia last made the trip to Omaha in 2008. If beating Georgia Tech in the region final and playing NC State in the super regional seems familiar, that’s because it’s the same path the Bulldogs took that season.

So, while fans might see it as fate that Georgia makes a return to the College World Series, players like Corey Collins are making sure to soak up all the moments they’ve got. The Suwanne, Ga. native came up clutch with a key play at first base to extend the game in the bottom of the ninth. He went to his right to field a two-out, bases loaded chopper and threw off balance to the bag. Relief pitcher Chandler Marsh was there to make a tough play, falling on the base before the runner touched for the out. Then, in the top half of the tenth, Collins brought home what would be the winning runs with a two-out, bases-clearing double to put UGA up 8-5.

Collins then was on the receiving end of the throw from Charlie Condon to seal the deal on the win. To cap things off, the senior, who has seen all the ups and downs of Georgia Baseball first hand throughout his career, was named Most Outstanding Player of the Athens Regional.

“Pure joy. We saw fight through the whole nine or ten. I had to ask how many we played. I didn’t even know. That just sealed the deal,” Collins said about the emotions he felt on the final play. “We fought all year to get here and brought it back home, defended our turf and it was great to compete with these guys. Took it to the next level, that’s what we wanted to do.”

Of course though, Collins hopes Georgia’s not done, and he’s confident they won’t be. Holding onto a ball during his postgame interview – presumably the one from the game’s final play – Collins said he managed to keep one from every game this weekend and plans to do so through the College World Series.

“It just gives us confidence,” Collins said about advancing out of the Athens Regional and the way in which the Bulldogs did so. “As Coach mentioned, we didn’t end the season well, but he said, ‘Guys, we’ve got to get over that hurdle.’ That stuck with me. Now, we have work before the next one. This was just another hurdle that we had to get over. We competed, we won, now it’s back to work and try to get over this next hurdle, which is the Super.”

More information on Georgia-NC State is expected to be released Tuesday morning with dates, times and ticket information still to be announced.

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