2003 Softball History
The 2003 softball season was one of great accomplishments for the Georgia softball team; things the previous six Georgia teams were never able to do- such as winning the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division and the SEC Title. And for a program that's leadership is just in its third season, winning the SEC is quite a feat.
The season started five months ago for head coach Lu Harris-Champer and her squad and ended with a 57-14 record and a second consecutive berth in an NCAA Regional. In the course of the season, the 2003 Bulldogs shattered the record books and brought home the program's first ever top-10 ranking. The season was a great one- one that Harris-Champer is very proud of.
"It was a great year," said Harris-Champer. "I'm really proud of the team for bringing home the SEC title. It was disappointing not to make it to the Women's College World Series, but we have that to aim for next season. Our goal every year is to make it to the World Series and compete for a national championship. We want to bring that title to Athens. Overall, it was just an awesome year."
Georgia's players also felt the fruits of success as they captured multiple awards throughout the season. Michelle Green and Nicole Barber were named to the NFCA All- America 2nd team, marking just the third and fourth times that a Georgia player has made an All-America team. In SEC postseason awards, three Bulldogs- Green, Barber, and Kim Wendland- made first team All-SEC, while Ashley Godfrey was named to the 2nd All-SEC team. Green also received SEC pitcher of the year while Harris-Champer was named SEC Coach of the Year. Georgia also has three players, Shannon McKeon, Ashley Godfrey, Barber- who were named Player of the Week for the Sec four times, as well as Green taking SEC Pitcher of the Week honors three times and USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Week once.
Georgia got off to a blazing start again in 2003, winning three of its first four tournaments, including both at home and the Florida International "Fun 'N Sun" Classic. During that four week stretch, the Bulldogs went 18-1, including a 5-4 win over then No. 9 Florida State and four no hitters; two over Appalachian St., one against Boston College, and one versus Southeast Louisiana. The Bulldogs' performance earned them a No. 12 ranking.
In the last week before conference play, Georgia traveled out to the west coast to the Stanford Classic at Stanford University. The Bulldogs faced three tough teams in No.11 Stanford, No. 21 Texas A&M, and Long Beach State. Georgia went 3-1 en route to the championship game, including Michelle Green's 2-0 no-hitter over Stanford. In the final game against Texas A&M, Georgia fought hard but fell 3-1 in eight innings to the Aggies.
Georgia entered conference play right after they returned from the west coast and boasted their first appearance in the top-10 at No. 10. Georgia started the SEC portion of the season with a home series versus Auburn before traveling to Mississippi State and Kentucky in a weeklong, spring break trip. The team emerged from the first three SEC series with an 8-1 conference record, with No. 8 LSU coming to town for a weekend series.
Against LSU, Georgia captured a win against the Tigers, an accomplishment no squad of Bulldogs had ever done before. Georgia won game one 1-0 and looked to take the series on Saturday at they led 4-0 going in to the top of the seventh of game two of the doubleheader. LSU rallied, scoring five runs in that half inning and defeated Georgia. On Sunday, Georgia accomplished another first by winning 3-0 and taking the series two games to one. The wins set the Bulldogs on fire as they reeled off their second-longest winning streak of the season following the series.
Georgia won its next eight games, including a series win against the Bayou Bengals. The Bulldogs also took a pair from Georgia State and Georgia Tech, and swept a three game series from Arkansas. However, the streak ended when Georgia dropped game one to Florida. The No. 24 Gators would get the best of the Dogs, taking two of the three from them in Athens, but the tight squad fought back by taking the two games against No. 15 South Carolina just three days later.
After a trip to Oxford and its third home tournament, Georgia rolled into Knoxville, Tennessee with a 49-9 overall record and an 18-5 mark in the SEC. On the first day of the weekend series, Georgia swept the Volunteers in two games, clinching Georgia's first-ever SEC East Divisional Title. Georgia ended up taking Sunday's game, as well as giving them a half-game lead over Alabama for the overall SEC Title with the Tide coming to Athens for the season-finale the next weekend.
With the SEC Title on the line, Georgia faced a task it had never done before- win a series against the Crimson Tide. Georgia carried a 4-0 lead in the sixth inning, but Alabama roared back with a seven-run sixth. Georgia scored once in the bottom of the seventh to close the gap to two runs, but the Tide took game one7-5. In part two of the doubleheader, Georgia battled back to win 7-3, making game three the SEC title game. On Sunday, Georgia scored in five of six innings, defeating Alabama by the run-rule, 12-4. The win gave the Bulldogs their first ever SEC title and a No. 7 ranking, their highest ever.
The Bulldogs still qualified for an NCAA regional after struggling in the SEC tournament, and seemed a lock for a No. 1 seed as the SEC regular season champions. But on selection day, Georgia received a No. 2 seed in the Fresno State Regional where UCLA would be the No. 1 seed. The Bulldogs won their first game ever over Long Island University to advance to the second day where they face Michigan State. Georgia led 3-2 over the Spartans in the top of the seventh, but Michigan State prevailed with two runs to take the 4-3 lead and win. Georgia would win its first game in the loser's bracket over Long Beach State, but fell to Fresno State on Saturday to end its season.
By the time the season ended, two NCAA records, four SEC records, and 35 Georgia records fell, while the Bulldogs tied another SEC record and 16 more school records.
The 2003 season marked many firsts for Georgia and every player on the roster, from seniors Michelle Tyree, Lacey Gardner, and Amy Brannan to newcomers Courtney Knight, Jade Jarvis, and Ashley Godfrey, were integral in success of the 2003 team. The team set goals to win the SEC, make NCAA Regionals, and go to the Women's College World Series, and the 2003 Bulldogs satisfied two out of three of those goals. While Georgia did not make it to the Women's World Series in 2003, it is a goal that will be in reach for the 2004 team as all but one Bulldog starter returns.
"We have a great core of players returning on the team next season," added Harris-Champer. "Our goal is to try to make it to the World series and it would be almost disappointing not to have that opportunity."