By Mike Strange
Knoxville News Sentinel
KNOXVILLE — Over the decades, the give-and-take between the Tennessee and Georgia college baseball teams has been generally equitable. Tennessee’s Volunteers lead the all-time series, 110-98.
Both have had moments of national success, the Bulldogs a few more — six College World Series and one national title to Tennessee’s four CWS appearances. In the past four Southeastern Conference seasons, UT has finished ahead of Georgia twice and trailed the Bulldogs twice.
That’s the big picture.
Very little seems equitable now, though, as coach Dave Perno’s Bulldogs (19-3, 4-2) come to Lindsey Nelson Stadium tonight to begin a three-game SEC series as the No. 1 team in the country. The Vols (11-12, 1-5) are trying to avoid digging into an insurmountable early-season conference hole.
“They’re used to winning and they’ve got good arms,” UT coach Todd Raleigh said Thursday of the Bulldogs. “That’s what we want, to get to that point.”
Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 7. Saturday’s starts at 4 p.m. and Sunday’s at 1.
“Georgia is No. 1 and our record is not that great,” said UT’s hot-hitting catcher Blake Forsythe, “but I think we’re going to compete. Our goal is to win this series. We don’t expect anything less than that.”
Raleigh, in his second year at Tennessee, doesn’t see any reason his program shouldn’t look Georgia in the eye in the near future.
“The scales,” he said, “aren’t tipped that much.”
Perno is in his eighth season as Georgia’s coach. The Bulldogs played for a national championship last season, finishing runners-up to Fresno State. It was their fourth return to the CWS since their 1990 championship.
Georgia moved to the No. 1 ranking earlier this week before losing 8-5 to Wright State on Tuesday.
“I don’t look at Georgia as No. 1, even though they are,” Raleigh said, “because they don’t really scare us in the sense they’re No. 1. They scare us more because of good pitching. They really pitch.”
Georgia appears to have a recruiting edge in that 27 of 34 Bulldogs are homegrown. The Vols collected only 16 of their 35 players in Tennessee.
“We’re making a pretty strong push to get in (Georgia),” Raleigh said.
UT has three Georgians on its roster and two more in the 2009 signing class, including top-10 outfielder Drew Streckenrider.
Raleigh said Tennessee has played a tougher schedule than Georgia this year, but he acknowledges the Bulldogs are on a roll. And that frequently can be the winning edge in the kind of close, hard-fought games he anticipates this weekend.
“Everybody’s got to find their place,” Raleigh said, “their niche, what kind of system they’re going to run.
“They went through some lean years, went through a lot of assistant coaches. But right now they seem to have found the right recipe and you’ve got to give ’em credit.”