1998 Softball History
If Georgia continues to make the strides it made in 1998, look for the Bulldogs to be one of the SEC's top teams each year. After a disappointing 25-33 record in 1997, Georgia nearly reversed that mark with a 34-26 effort in 1998 while earning the program's first trip to the SEC Tournament.
The Bulldogs began the season in style, winning eight of their first 10 games and were 17011 after splitting the first three SEC doubleheaders. Georgia then ripped off a school-best 10-game winning streak that included sweeps at Louisiana Tech and Centenary. Head Coach Alleen Hawkins then led her troops back to a familiar stomping ground when the Bulldogs traveled to Furman for a mid-season tilt. Georgia responded taking both games including former Paladin Rhonda Coffelt's one-hit performance to pick up the 1-0 win in game two.
Georgia hit a late season slump as the Bulldogs dropped 14 of their final 19 contests but not without plenty of excitement. Georgia got its first win over perennial power South Carolina in 10 innings, and despite late inning heroics from Chrissy Gavin the Bulldogs dropped a nine inning affair to the Lady Gamecocks by one run and lost the other two contests by 5-3 scores. The Bulldogs rebounded to win a 2-0 battle at rival Georgia Tech on April 21 thanks to a two-run home run by Jen Bell and a shut out performance by Natalie Price.
Needed a few more wins to secure a berth to the SEC Tournament, the Bulldogs won three of four during a road trip to Auburn and Alabama including a dramatic 5-3 victory over the eventual SEC Tournament Champion Crimson Tide. In that game, which clinched the tourney spot, the Bulldogs rallied with three runs in the top of the seventh, thanks to a two-out two-run single by Lisa Schutt to give Georgia the upset.
That win would be the last of the season for Georgia, however, as the Bulldogs were swept in Gainesville by 25-ranked Florida during the final regular season weekend. Georgia faced the SEC Champion Gators again in round one of the tourney. Losing 3-1. The Bulldogs' season came to an end later that night as tournament runner-up Mississippi State overcame a 2-0 Georgia lead in the sixth inning to stop the Bulldogs' bid for a tournament championship.
In addition to the team's new-found success, several student athletes earned individual honors throughout the year. Junior first baseman Jessi Cerra became the school's first SEC Player of the Week March 18 with a sterling 8-13 (.615), three homer performance at Tennessee. Junior Rhonda Coffelt followed a week later with Georgia' first SEC Pitcher of the Week award after allowing no earned runs in victories over Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Cerra went on to lead the team in most offensive categories and was named first team All-SEC and All-Southeast Region. Nine members of the team were named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll, the most of any SEC school.
Even with drastic improvements in several areas, Georgia was still not the caliber of team as SEC Divisional Champs LSU and Florida, going 0-7 against the two schools, but the Bulldogs proved they are on the verge of being very good. After all, Georgia had only one new player in 1998, lost its starting center fielder to knee surgery and started two senior walk-ons. Despite all of these factors, Georgia earned a win over 1998 NCAA Regional participant Illinois Chicago, defeated its first Big Ten team in a win over Purdue, and managed a 23-7 record against non-SEC opponents.