2008 Softball Season Review
ATHENS, Ga. --- The Georgia softball program finished with a record of 46-24 and advanced to just its second-ever NCAA Super Regional in 2008 to exceed expectations and display a promising future.
With an 18-player roster consisting of fifty-percent freshmen and 12 underclassmen, the prospect of what to expect from the onset of the season was uncertain. Regardless of what anyone's outlook was for youthful squad, it's clear that the Bulldogs went well beyond those expectations as they recorded Georgia's seventh-straight season with 46 wins and earned the programs seventh-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bulldogs finished ranked No. 17 by USA Today/NFCA and No. 18 by ESPN.com/USA Softball.
The squad was coached by Lu Harris-Champer, who recorded and surpassed 600 collegiate career coaching victories in 2008 as well as achieving and surpassing 400 wins at Georgia in her eight seasons with the team. Harris-Champer's head coaching record now stands 614-220, one of the top-10 best marks among active head coaches, while her 405 wins at Georgia rank her among the top-10 coaches in terms of victories in any sport at UGA in the school's history.
Georgia's path to the 2008 NCAA postseason did not come easy as it played 22 regular season contests against ranked opponents. Despite going 6-16 in those games, the Bulldogs did start and end the regular season slate of games with victories over ranked opponents. In the opening game, Georgia downed eighth-ranked DePaul 3-2 before going on to post a 32-10 mark against non-conference opponents in 2008. In the final game of the regular season, Georgia posted its first-ever win over a number-one ranked opponent, when it defeated top-ranked Alabama, 4-2, in front of a UGA Softball Stadium record crowd of 1,663. The win proved vital to the Bulldogs in the Southeastern Conference as it secured a .500 record in league play at 14-14 and a third-place finish in the Eastern Division.
Within the bulk of the schedule, Georgia posted the fourth-best winning streak in program history when it rattled off 16-straight victories from March 11 against North Florida to a March 30 win over Arkansas. While that streak was unfortunately ended by what became an eight-game losing streak, the Bulldog bounced back to post series sweeps over Mercer and Kentucky before ending the regular season with the monumental win over Alabama.
Georgia was selected as the No. 15 national seed for the NCAA Tournament, and it was named the number-one seed the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional. In Regional play, the Bulldogs went 3-0 with a win over Campbell and two wins over Brigham Young to earn the right to advance to Super Regional action for just the second time in program history. Georgia was slotted to face third-ranked UCLA in the Super Regional pairing, and the Bruins won that series with 6-1 and 6-0 victories that brought an end to the 2008 Bulldog campaign.
Helping lead the youthful 2008 team was a trio of seniors in Sojourner Moody, Victoria Sanders and Melissa Wood. Moody was second on the team with a .315 batting average and 42 runs scored, and in SEC action she hit .338 with 17 runs earning her All-SEC Second Team honors. Sanders hit .360 with 37 runs scored, and Wood added a .263 average with 11 home runs and 46 RBI.
Behind the guidance from the seniors, the young Bulldog squad excelled at the plate led by freshman Megan Wiggins, who was atop several categories for the Bulldogs in 2008. She was the team leader in batting average (.347), runs scored (44), hits (76), triples (5), RBI (52) and slugging percentage (.553). Wiggins' efforts in SEC games, which included a .347 average, four home runs and 20 RBI, garnered her All-SEC First Team and All-SEC Freshman Team accolades.
Fellow freshman Taylor Schlopy was also a top performer at the plate as she hit .311 with 41 runs scored and 30 RBI. Schlopy was walked 28 times and hit by a pitch 18 times helping her to a team-best .441 on-base percentage. In league play, Schlopy was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team in the outfield after hitting .333 with 13 runs and 13 RBI.
Additionally, freshmen Alisa Goler and Brianna Hesson were solid contributors. Goler, a NFCA All-Southeast Region Second-Team selection at third base, batted .295 with 41 RBI and 35 runs, while Hesson provided the team with 16 RBI and 15 runs out of the first base position.
The 2008 season also saw junior Kristin Schnake, a defensive mainstay in the middle infield, post her best collegiate season as she hit .306 with 35 runs scored while also providing 14 sacrifice bunts.
From the circle, Georgia used five pitchers for the first time since 2005. Freshman Sarah McCloud, sophomore Kate Gaskill and junior Christie Hamilton combined to pitch over 90-percent of the innings thrown by the Bulldog staff. McCloud got the nod and earned the win over eighth-ranked DePaul in the season opener and went on to finish 14-7 with a 2.16 earned run average in a team-high 149.1 innings. Gaskill posted the best ERA on the staff at 2.07 and tied for the team-high in wins with a 15-6 mark in 122.0 innings, while Hamilton tied her for the team-high in wins at 15-5 in 141.2 innings. Georgia tossed two perfect games in 2008 as Gaskill notched the first in a 3-0 win over South Carolina (3/15), and the second was a combined perfect game between McCloud and Gaskill in a 8-0 victory over Mercer (4/23). During the week of her perfect game, Gaskill was named the Louisville Slugger/NFCA Division I Collegiate Player of the Week. Providing depth to the staff were junior Norie Glazebrook (2-2, 2.95 ERA in 21.1 innings) and Schlopy.
While the Bulldogs are losing three key members with the departure of the seniors, the future of the Georgia softball program looks very promising following a successful youth movement in 2008.