Base-running errors cost Georgia first game of College World Series

Georgia outfielder Jaiden Fields (3) takes a lead at third base as coach Lu Harris-Champer (l) looks on in the background. Fields scored a run for Georgia, but the third-base coaching decisions cost the Bulldogs one run and possibly two in a 3-2 loss to No. 5 Oklahoma State on Tuesday, June 3, 2021, in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Georgia outfielder Jaiden Fields (3) takes a lead at third base as coach Lu Harris-Champer (l) looks on in the background. Fields scored a run for Georgia, but the third-base coaching decisions cost the Bulldogs one run and possibly two in a 3-2 loss to No. 5 Oklahoma State on Tuesday, June 3, 2021, in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

If Georgia is going to win its first Women’s College World Series, it’s going to have to do it out of the loser’s bracket.

The Bulldogs lost to No. 5-seed Oklahoma State 3-2 in first-round play Thursday at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. All they will have to do now is defeat No. 1-seed Oklahoma at noon Saturday in an elimination game.

The Sooners (50-3) were shocking first-round losers to James Madison, 4-3 in extra innings, in Thursday’s first game. The Dukes are making their first-ever CWS appearance, while Oklahoma entered as a 9-5 favorite to win the national championship. Instead, it’s James Madison (40-2) that will play the Cowgirls (48-10) on Friday night.

Georgia (34-22) handed the Sooners their first loss of the season when they met in a doubleheader April 20 in Athens. Oklahoma needed nine innings to win the second game 7-6.

“The good thing about it is we know them,” Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer said of playing the Sooners. “The girls know that they can compete. We’re going to come out and go out there and play Georgia softball and do the best that we can and compete and get the job done for our university.”

With some better decision-making at third base Thursday, the Bulldogs could be in the winner’s bracket. Harris-Champer handles third-base coaching duties during games, and her calls there Thursday might’ve cost Georgia two runs.

In the fifth inning, freshman Sydney Chambley hesitated briefly after rounding third base, then proceeded to run home on Payden Bordeau’s grounder to first, which was mishandled by Oklahoma State’s Alyson Febrey. That hesitation cost the Bulldogs as Chambley was tagged out on a bang-bang play at the plate off the throw of right fielder Hayley Busby.

“I was sending her, but when I turned around she was coming back at me, and I didn’t have time to reel it back in,” Harris-Champer said. “I have to be in position for her to see me better so we don’t have that mishap.”

Later, as Georgia rallied in the seventh inning, Harris-Champer held up C.J. Landrum – pinch-running for Bordeau – at third base on a double to the right-center field wall that scored Jaiden Fields from second base with one out. With runners at second and third with one out, Savana Sikes popped out to second and Sydney Kuma grounded out to third to end the game.

“If I could do it again I’d absolutely send her, but I do think it was going to be really close at the plate,” Harris-Champer said.

Indeed, Oklahoma State was tough at home plate. When Kuma scored Georgia’s first run in the top of the sixth, it came only after the Cowgirls’ catcher Reagan Wright was called for obstruction for blocking the plate. That throw also came from Busby.

“Hayley may have the best arm on this team,” Oklahoma state coach Kenny Gajewski said. “She threw an absolute strike. Those plays are huge in these types of games.”

The loss ruined an exemplary pitching effort by Mary Wilson Avant, who struck out five and scattered five hits over six innings. The only solid contact was Chyenne Factor’s two-run home run, which game with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the third inning.

Instead, Georgia will need to beat the nation’s No. 1 team in an elimination game to keep playing in its fifth CWS appearance. Then again, nobody expected the Bulldogs to be here this year after winning only seven SEC games this season.

“We’re going to bounce back on Saturday and get a ‘dub,’” Kuma said confidently. “I think we’ll pull through.”

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