UGA softball plans to ‘play with joy’ as World Series underdogs

Georgia pitcher Mary Wilson Avant (left) during the Bulldogs’ game against Florida on Saturday, May 29, 2021 at Katie Seashole Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. (Tim Casey/University of Florida)
Georgia pitcher Mary Wilson Avant (left) during the Bulldogs’ game against Florida on Saturday, May 29, 2021 at Katie Seashole Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. (Tim Casey/University of Florida)

Credit: TimCasey

Credit: TimCasey

ATHENS – At this point, Georgia softball ought to just wear a “U” on the front of their jerseys. For Underdogs.

That distinction has served them well. The Bulldogs (34-21) were decided underdogs in their past two NCAA Tournament matchups, against No. 13-Duke and No. 4-seed Florida. Both were summarily vanquished, the Blue Devils in a 10-9 thriller and the Gators in back-to-back shutouts.

And now that they’ve reached the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Georgia will be decided underdogs throughout. That starts Thursday when they meet No. 5 Oklahoma State (47-10) in the opening round at 2:30 p.m. (ESPN).

It’s double elimination, so the winning team will advance to face the winner of Oklahoma and James Madison on Friday. That means the Bulldogs have a chance of meeting two Oklahoma teams in the first two rounds in a national championship tournament held in Oklahoma.

And they love it.

“Honestly, I would say that’s not a huge problem for us,” said Jaiden Fields, sister of Justin, who hit home runs in Georgia’s past two games.

Said Georgia’s coach Lu Harris-Champer, who has led the Bulldogs to all five of their World Series appearances. “I feel like they might like that. It’s a matter of just going out there and focusing on what you want to happen and always believing that something good is about to happen.”

That’s definitely been the case since the regular season ended with the Bulldogs losing 11 of its past 14 games. Since then, they haven’t lost.

Incredibly, Georgia swept the Gators in consecutive shutouts pitched by senior pitcher Mary Wilson Avant. She’ll be on the mound again Thursday.

Avant (20-10, 2.69 ERA) has been a transformed pitcher in the postseason.

“A lot of it just comes with playing with joy,” Avant said. “That’s something our team as a whole is focused on, playing with joy. Just going out and competing freely, and that’s something I try to bring into the circle every time I’m out there. Just going out and having fun and attacking the batters.”

She’ll have a tough one – and a familiar one -- to face right off the bat on Thursday. The Cowgirls, as they call themselves, are led by Alyson Febrey, who’s hitting a scorching .409 with 18 home runs and 59 RBIs.

Febrey played for Georgia until last year.

“I think it’ll be fun,” Avant said of pitching to her friend. “I texted her on her birthday (Tuesday). I said, ‘See ya in OKC!’ I don’t know, we’ve known each other a long time, and I think it’ll be fun to be on different sides of the ball.”

Febrey is one of two UGA transfers on the Oklahoma State roster. The other is third baseman Jordan Doggett. Doggett has started 26 of 44 games. Febrey, a first-team All-American, has started all 57.

Harris-Champer, for one, doesn’t begrudge her former players.

“Well, I’ve been rooting for them all year, but I won’t (Thursday),” Harris-Champer said. “I love them both, and I wish them both the best. And I do think the transfer portal is a really good thing. If somebody’s needs aren’t getting met, then they should have the opportunity to get them met because you only get one go-around with your career.”

This is the first go-around at the World Series for many of Georgia’s players.

“We’re a team that thrives on one another,” said freshman Sydney Chambley, who has been one of the Bulldogs’ postseason heroes. “It started with the upperclassmen, and it’s worked it’s way down to us, showing us what laying it all out means, what giving it all means. That’s what we’re all doing now.”

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