For the University of Georgia baseball program the 1990 season could not have been written any better. The team had a veteran group of players, along with several talented freshmen, and hopes were high that the Bulldogs could compete for the Southeastern Conference title. Little did anyone know that in June these Dogs would be crowned national champions.
Georgia got off to a slow start by going 2-3 in its first five games. Then things started to turn around. The Bulldogs won 18 of their next 19 outings. In that stretch, Georgia pieced together a 14-game win streak.
Over the next month and a half the Dogs rolled through everyone in their path as they upped their record to 42-10 with only seven games remaining on the schedule. Unfortunately, they played their worst baseball of the year, in the process losing the SEC title to LSU on the last day of the season and then their first two games in the SEC Tournament. All in all, Georgia lost five games in a row to end the regular season at 44-17.
Then it happened: a reprieve was sent to Athens, Ga. The NCAA extended an invitation to its tournament, and the Bulldogs thankfully accepted. Two days later, the Dogs whisked off to Waterbury, Conn., to take part in the Northeast Regional as the No. 2 seed. Just when it seemed the Dogs had lost their bark, much less their bite, they turned it around. In a matter of four days Georgia disposed of Connecticut, Maine, North Carolina and Rutgers. For the second time in four years, Georgia had earned a spot in the College World Series.
Some familiar foes stood in Georgia's way, the first of which was SEC rival Mississippi State. All-America selection Dave Fleming got the call for the fourth-seeded Bulldogs, and for the second time in a little more than a month, the junior shut out State 3-0. The first time came just a few weeks earlier in Starkville, Miss., when Fleming shutout the Bulldogs for the first time in 177 games. His CWS performance vaulted Georgia into a second round game with the top-seeded Stanford Cardinal.
Senior Mike Rebhan, who had won 11 games on the season, was tabbed as the starter by head coach Steve Webber. Rebhan responded by limiting the Cardinal to a pair of runs on five hits while going the distance. In that game Georgia tied a CWS record by scoring 11 runs in the sixth inning. Up to that point future first-round draft pick Mike Mussina (later of the Baltimore Orioles) had held Georgia to three hits while striking out nine. The victory left the Dogs as the only undefeated team in the bracket. They needed only one more win in two tries to put them in the national championship game, but it would not happen in their next outing.
Stanford battled through an elimination game to get another shot at Georgia, and this time the Cardinal did not miss. Stanford knocked off the Bulldogs 4-2 to set up yet another game between the two schools. Once again Rebhan opposed Mussina on the mound, and once again Rebhan took top honors. In throwing his second complete game in five days, he held Stanford to six hits and one run in the 5-1 victory. For the first time in Georgia baseball history, a national championship was within reach.
Opposing the Bulldogs were the Oklahoma State Cowboys, a team that had already run roughshod over the entire CWS field. Webber took a calculated risk and started freshman lefty Stan Payne against the heavy-hitting Cowboys. Holding true to form, Payne continued Georgia's strong pitching. With his teammates staking him to a 2-0 lead through five innings, Payne allowed only an infield single until OSU finally scored in the sixth to cut the lead in half at 2-1. Payne then yielded to Fleming in the seventh inning. Fleming retired eight of the ten men he faced and struck out the side in the ninth inning to preserve the Georgia win.
When all was said and done, the Bulldogs produced the most successful year in their history. They finished with a 52-19 record, and in the process Webber was named NCAA Coach of the Year and Fleming, Payne, shortstop J.R. Showalter, designated hitter Brian Jester and outfielder Ray Suplee were named to various All-America teams.