Homers the power behind Georgia softball success

Georgia’s softball program has established a reputation for being an offensive juggernaut under coach Lu Harris-Champer. But even the Bulldogs’ even-tempered leader was a bit taken aback when she saw her players send seven balls into the pines that stand beyond the outfield walls at the Jack Turner Sport Complex on Sunday.

The fact is, the long ball has been a big part of Georgia’s arsenal this season, and it’s a primary reason the Bulldogs are still alive in the NCAA Tournament and hosting a Super Regional this weekend. Seeded fourth overall, Georgia (49-13) takes on Baylor in a best-of-three series to determine which team advances to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City next week.

“It’s been outstanding,” said Harris-Champer, the Bulldogs’ coach of the past 14 years. “I’ve got to give a little bit of credit to coach Ryan (Gearhart), our strength coach. He does a fantastic job with our kids. They’re very fit and very strong and quick with everything they do. And (associate head coach Gerry) Glasco works really well with the hitters. And the kids themselves are just very gifted. They’re good kids who work hard and love to hit.”

Apparently so. With 91 home runs so far this season, the Bulldogs are threatening the school record of 99 home runs in a season, established in 2010. And they’ve been belting dingers at roughly that rate the past few years, with 97 in 2011 and 93 last year.

And even though sophomore Alex Hugo is tied for the national Division I lead in homers at 23, it hasn’t been a one-woman show. Four other Bulldogs are in double-figures on round-trippers. Anna Swafford as 12, Paige Wilson 11 and Tina Iosefa and Geri Ann Glasco have 10 apiece.

As a team the Bulldogs have scored 372 runs and hitting .309.

“Georgia’s an offensive team, always has been,” said Glasco, a sophomore from Watkinsville. “This year our big focus has been get ducks on the pond and then hit ’em in. So we try to be a little selective and get our walks early, but once there’s runners on base, somebody’s got to step up and get the big hit. That’s been our approach and our focus. It just happened to be home runs this past weekend.”

Of course, there is no success to be had in fast-pitch softball without a dominant pitcher, and the Bulldogs have than in sophomore right-hander Chelsea Wilkinson. A two-time national player of the week this season, Wilkinson (33-8, 1.96 ERA) threw a no hitter in the regional-clinching win over N.C. State on Sunday, her second of the season and third of her career.

As a result, Georgia rolls red hot into Friday’s super-regional matchup against the 13th-seeded Baylor Bears (45-14). The Bulldogs will seek their third trip the World Series, the previous two of which ended in the semifinals.

“It’s what we dream about as little girls,” Wilkinson said. “That’s why you come to Georgia, to have an opportunity to do this. Fourteen more strong innings, and we’re there.”