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April 23, 2008

SCS.comOne of the hottest teams in the country right now is the Georgia Bulldogs. David Perno's squad has won 14 of their last 17 games, and while their 10-game conference win streak was snapped in Sunday's extra-innings tie against LSU, Georgia already had a sixth straight SEC series victory wrapped up.

Thanks to their current run, the Bulldogs are 27-12-1 overall and 14-3-1 in the SEC, good for a 3.5 game lead over South Carolina in the East and easily the best record in the conference. After a 5-1 loss to Arkansas in their conference opener on March 14, Georgia was at 6-7, but since then, have won 21 of 27, and have risen to #5 in the new Collegiate Baseball poll.

A big reason for Georgia's success has been junior shortstop Gordon Beckham, who is in the midst of a monster season. Beckham went 0 for 4 in Sunday's game, but he hasn't been held down many times this season, as he enters this week leading the nation in homers with 19, and is second in the SEC with a .424 average, third in RBI with 46, and first in runs scored with 60. Beckham is also first in total bases and slugging percentage, second in on-base percentage, and in the top ten in doubles (13) and steals (13).

As a freshman, Beckham was a key member of Georgia's 2006 College World Series team, starting all 70 games and hitting .280 with 18 doubles, 12 homers, and 54 RBI. That team also featured a slugger in Josh Morris (23 homers in 2006), along with Joey Side (.352, 42 extra base hits, 54 RBI),. Those two departed after the season, along with key pitchers Brooks Brown, Rip Warren, and Mickey Westphal, and while Beckham improved his batting average to .307, hit 13 homers, and drove in 51 runs, he was one of few bright spots on a youthful team that finished a dismal 23-33 overall and 11-19 in the SEC, not only missing out on the postseason, but also on the SEC tournament.

But, Georgia has come back strong this season and could be in line for a fourth appearance in Omaha in the last eight seasons, with Beckham leading the way. Not only is he having his best season as a hitter, but he's been a slick fielder as well, with a .964 fielding percentage, and after making 38 errors in his first two seasons, he has only six in 40 games.

Beckham's big year has had a big impact on the hitters around him, not only because he brings plenty of runners home, but also because he makes his way on base pretty often, whether it's because he hits his way on, or he gets a free pass. Teams face a big problem when deciding whether or not to pitch to him, because Ryan Peisel (.327) and Matt Olson (.301) might already be on base ahead of him, and you don't want him to burn you. Also, the guy below him is quickly becoming just as dangerous. If teams let Beckham get on one way or another, pitchers have to deal with sophomore Rich Poythress (.384, 9 homers, 40 RBI), who actually leads the team in walks with 33, two ahead of Beckham.

The hitting hasn't been the only reason why the Bulldogs are putting themselves in an excellent position for an SEC title, hosting a regional, and potentially being a national seed.

The pitching staff had an off-week last week, but they've allowed more than four runs in only four of 18 conference games. Closer Joshua Fields is back to his dominating All-American self after struggling mightily in 2007, and has clearly benefited from deciding to return for his senior season after being drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Braves. Fields hasn't allowed only five hits and no earned runs in 20.2 innings, and has 11 saves in 20 appearances.

Georgia has a tough three-week stretch coming up, going to Florida, hosting SEC West leader Ole Miss, and going to Nashville to take on #10 Vanderbilt, and while it might be tough to keep their streak of series wins going through the next three weekends, they should come out of it with their lead intact, and if Beckham and the rest of the cast can stay hot, the Bulldogs could have their sights set on much bigger in June.

Read more from Eddie throughout the week at

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