Young Georgia softball team ousted from College World Series

ATHENS – Not ready for prime time.

That’s the truth that was revealed of the Georgia softball team, which was unceremoniously ousted in two games from the Women’s College World Series. The Bulldogs were eliminated Saturday when they lost 8-0 to the No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Oklahoma Sooners at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

The loss ended Georgia’s season at 34-23 overall, 7-17 in SEC play.

That’s not the typical record displayed by a team participating in a national championship tournament. But these Bulldogs were anything but typical. After losing seven consecutive games to end the regular season, they were undefeated in the regionals and defeated No. 4 Florida in back-to-back shutouts in the super regionals to stamp their ticket into the eight-team WCWS field.

“Team 25 is a very special team,” said Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer, referring to the 25th softball team in UGA history. “I’ve been telling them that from Day 1. Win, lose or draw, they have greatness inside of them, greatness ahead of them.”

Saturday’s game served as a reality check that Georgia was ahead of schedule in reaching Oklahoma City this year. Every position player in the Bulldogs’ lineup Saturday is set to return next season. That included four freshmen and two sophomores. UGA’s 25-player roster consists of 13 underclassmen and three juniors.

The key going forward will be to find a starting pitcher who can come close to giving the Bulldogs what senior Mary Wilson Avant was able to give this season. A 5-foot-10 right-hander, Avant pitched every postseason frame for Georgia until the sixth inning Saturday. But then the seemingly indefatigable Avant appeared to run out of gas. That certainly was exaggerated facing the nation’s top offensive team.

Avant (20-12, 2.75 ERA) gave up five runs (four earned) on six hits with only two strikeouts in 5-1/3 innings Saturday. Oklahoma (50-3) countered with Giselle Juarez (19-1), who had 10 strikeouts and scattered three hits in the run-rule win.

To all that, the Bulldogs vowed that they’ll be back and be better next time.

“This team is gritty,” said junior first baseman Lacey Fincher, who had two hits Saturday, including a double. “The Georgia Bulldogs are the definition of grit. We have players like Mary Wilson, who is just a baller who goes out there every day and gives us her all. Ellie Armistead, one of our freshmen, is such a good player and a good human and a beautiful person to have on your team who loves the game of softball. I just can’t wait to see what these team has for the future.”

Georgia, which lost a tough 3-2 decision to Oklahoma State in the opening game Thursday, got off to a rough start in this one. Avant seemed to be cruising along with a two-out, 1-2 count on Oklahoma left fielder Mackenzie Donihoo in the second inning. But Avant left her riseball over the plate, and Donihoo lifted it over the left-center field wall for an 2-0 lead in the top of second inning.

Left fielder Sydney Chambley’s throwing error on another Donihoo hit in the fourth inning resulted in another Oklahoma run. Harris-Champer lifted Avant after she gave up another run in the sixth. Freshman Britton Rogers came in and gave up a two-run homer to Jocelyn Alo. It Alo’s was the 31st of the season, an Oklahoma record.

The Bulldogs finished the game with two more errors, giving them 48 for the season. Compare that with the Sooners, who have committed19 all season, and the difference is stark.

Nevertheless, Georgia was one of only three teams to beat Oklahoma this season.

“They are fighters; they fight,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said of the Bulldogs. “I was very uncomfortable coming into this game because I know what it’s like playing against them. They’re scary. They can swing it and hit it out at any time and are very rally-oriented.”

There would be no rally in this last game. After hitting 11 home runs in the regionals, the Bulldogs did not hit any in their two games at newly expanded Hall of Fame Stadium.

But the message they left with was that they’ll be back.

“Our future looks really bright,” said Harris-Champer, who has brought seven teams to the CWS, five in 21 seasons at Georgia. “So many youngsters out there. They have grown so much. I can’t say enough about the chemistry with each other and the ‘want to’ with and for each other. I think that’s the strength of the team moving forward. This experience was amazing for them, and this team will only get stronger.”

Added Fincher: “You can’t dwell on the negative things. Yes, it’s not fun losing. Nobody wants to lose. But this team has great potential in the future, and we just have to keep our heads high and keep moving forward.”