Razorbacks to face hot-hitting Georgia

Georgia’s Madison Kerpics was a second-team All-SEC selection last season. She is 8-1this year with a 2.03 ERA for the Bulldogs.
(AP/Stew Milne)
Georgia’s Madison Kerpics was a second-team All-SEC selection last season. She is 8-1this year with a 2.03 ERA for the Bulldogs. (AP/Stew Milne)

The No. 20 University of Arkansas softball team will look to rebound from its home series loss to Mississippi State when it opens a three-game SEC road series today at No. 3 Georgia.

The Razorbacks (24-8, 3-3 SEC) fell three spots in this week's ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate poll following their 2-1 series loss to the Bulldogs last weekend at home.

Georgia (28-4, 5-1) has won five straight heading into today's 11 a.m. Central matchup at Jack Turner Stadium in Athens, Ga., which will be televised on SEC Network. Sunday's game also has an 11 a.m. start on ESPN2 and the series is scheduled to conclude at 6 p.m. Monday on SEC Network.

The Bulldogs own series wins against Alabama and Ole Miss, the latter in a sweep. They just missed sweeping Alabama by falling 5-4 in the series finale despite a late-inning comeback that ended Georgia's eight-game win streak at the time.

Tony Baldwin is in his third season as the Bulldogs' head coach. Last season he led the program to its first NCAA Super Regional appearance and the Bulldogs finished 42-15 after falling to Florida State in the supers.

Last season Georgia won the series at Arkansas 2-1, two wins that allowed the Bulldogs to host an NCAA regional at Jack Turner Stadium, a hitter-friendly park where balls tend to fly out with great regularity.

Georgia already had one of the top returning pitchers in the SEC in senior Madison Kerpics, but added a major weapon in junior transfer Lilli Backes, a left-hander from North Carolina.

Kerpics (8-1, 2.03 ERA), a senior right-hander, was 20-10 and a second-team All-SEC selection last season. She has started 10 games and has allowed 30 hits in 51 2/3 innings with 33 strikeouts.

Backes (21-1, 1.97 ERA) earned second-team All-ACC honors as a sophomore for the Tar Heels. This season, she has 70 strikeouts over 78 1/3 innings with 16 walks. She also has 4 saves.

Shelby Walters (5-2, 3.27 ERA) is Georgia's third weapon on the pitching staff. She has pitched 55 2/3 innings this season with 49 strikeouts and 22 walks.

"They are using all three really effectively," Arkansas Coach Courtney Deifel said. "What you get in all three of them is a really good complement. They use the off-speed really well, and I think they understand who they are.

"Adding Backes to that staff was huge. Because as that lefty, she can cut a curve in to a right-handed hitter. And she can use a change in any count. The same with Kerpics. And Walters throws hard and she attacks the zone and pitches to her defense."

The Bulldogs lead the SEC with 57 home runs. They have five players with 5 or more home runs and carry a .319 team batting average, which ranks fourth in the SEC.

Senior utfielder Jayda Kearney has a .364 batting average, 13 home runs and 31 RBI. Last season she had 19 homers to earn first-team All-SEC honors and was named a first-team NFCA All-American.

Infielder Sydney Kuma leads the team with a .398 batting average to go with 35 hits, 29 runs and 6 stolen bases.

Outfielder Sara Mosley is on base to better her numbers from a year ago when she had 17 homers to earn All-SEC honors. This season through 32 games, she has 10 homers, a team-high 45 RBI and a .358 batting average.

Junior outfielder Dallas Goodnight, who started her career at Alabama, is batting .364 with 8 stolen bases.

"Explosiveness. Experience. Composure," Deifel said when asked to assess Georgia. "You look at how strong they were last year and they have only gotten stronger.

"They are a team that knows who they are and they are incredibly confident. They know they have the ability to change the game with one swing and we're playing them at their place with short porches down the line.

"We're gong into Georgia knowing they are the most explosive offense in our conference."

College softball

No. 20 Arkansas at No. 3 Georgia

WHEN 11 a.m. Central today

WHERE Jack Turner Stadium, Athens, Ga

RECORDS Arkansas 24-8, 3-3 SEC; Georgia 28-4, 5-1

TV SEC Network


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