No. 13 Georgia softball aims for deep run in NCAA tourney

Georgia pitcher Shelby Walters (48) delivers a pitch during the Bulldogs' game against Florida at Jack Turner Stadium in Athens on Sunday, April 28, 2024. (Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Georgia pitcher Shelby Walters (48) delivers a pitch during the Bulldogs' game against Florida at Jack Turner Stadium in Athens on Sunday, April 28, 2024. (Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

ATHENS — Once again, the Georgia Bulldogs will be hosting a softball regional.

Coach Tony Baldwin’s team earned a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament and will host three other teams Friday through Sunday at Jack Turner Stadium.

Joining the 13th-ranked Bulldogs (39-16) for the double-elimination Athens Regional tournament are Charlotte, Liberty and North Carolina-Wilmington. Georgia draws UNCW in the 5:30 p.m. slot Friday. Charlotte and Liberty will open play at 3 p.m. Friday.

It is the 13th time that UGA has hosted a softball regional and will be the Bulldogs’ first back-to-back regionals at home since they hosted three in a row from 2014-16.

All-session tickets are $25 and are available online only at Georgia’s website starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Single-game tickets will be available for $10 each, $5 for children. Admission is free for UGA students. All seating is general admission.

Here are three things to know as Georgia softball embarks on a postseason journey for the 22nd consecutive year and the third straight time under Baldwin:

Advancement expected

The winner of the Athens Regional will advance to the NCAA Super Regional and face the victor from the Los Angeles Regional that features No. 6 UCLA, Virginia Tech, San Diego State, and Grand Canyon. If that’s the Bruins (37-10), as expected, the next round will be in L.A.

There absolutely is no reason that it shouldn’t be the Bulldogs making that trip.

To date, it has been a somewhat disappointing year for Baldwin’s third Georgia team. The Bulldogs rose as high as No. 3 in national softball polls the first few weeks of the season, but have been in a sustained drop since late March as they dropped four of their past five SEC series.

Georgia showed some resiliency in the SEC Tournament in Auburn, outlasting the host Tigers with a dramatic two-homer ending to a 14-inning, walk-off win in the second round. But the Bulldogs went down meekly to Florida 9-4 in the third round and come home needing a hot streak to extend the season.

The regional should be Georgia’s to take. Charlotte (36-16) is the only other ranked team. Sporting an RPI of 9 this year, the Bulldogs have made five Women’s College World Series appearances but none since the last run under former coach Lu Harris-Champer in 2021. Georgia hasn’t won an SEC championship since getting its second in 2005 and hasn’t won the conference tournament since 2014.

Long ball specialists

The Bulldogs weren’t at the SEC Tournament long, but they sent a lot of balls over the fence while they were there – five, in fact. Only Florida (85) has hit more homers than Georgia (83) this season. Those teams combined to hit three each in the last outing, which accounted for 11 of the 13 runs in the Gators’ 9-4 win.

Georgia’s two All-SEC sluggers Jayda Kearney (19) and Sara Mosley (17) are 1-2 in the SEC in round-trippers this season. Kearney is second in the league in total bases (125). Mosley hit her 62nd career homer against the Gators, bringing her closer to the record of 68 set by Alyssa DiCarlo. Kearney is third all-time homers at UGA with 59.

The Bulldogs also have Dallis Goodnight (.361, 12-of-16 stolen-base attempts) and Sydney Kuma (.340) getting on base regularly, so hitting and scoring is the least of the Georgia’s problems.

Hurlers need to step up

Where Georgia needs improvement is in the circle. The Bulldogs enter the tournament ranked ninth among SEC teams in pitching with a staff ERA of 2.63.

Junior left-hander Lilli Backes, a first-year transfer from North Carolina, leads UGA in appearances (40), starts (17), innings pitched (154) and saves (6). She comes in with a 15-6 record and 2.50 ERA. The Bulldogs also can turn to right-handers Shelby Walters (9-7, 3.11) and Madison Kerpics (12-3, 3.11). Each of them has made 15 starts, and they share 58 appearances between them.

It’d be a great time for Walters to recapture some magic. A transfer from Duke two years ago, she earned All-SEC honors in 2023 when she went 18-6 with a 1.72 ERA in 44 appearances and 23 starts.

Georgia carries an experience-laden roster into the postseason, and Baldwin is hoping for a deep run for his players’ sakes.

“They’re good people,” Baldwin said on UGA Senior Day. “Some of these players have been here four, five, six years. I recruited Jayda Kearney when she was 13 and now she’s 22, 23 years old. So, I’ve been around them a long time and really appreciate them and certainly want us to get rolling so that they can finish on a high note.”