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UGA’s Poythress on record-setting pace.


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UGA’s Poythress on record-setting pace

By CHIP TOWERS

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Athens — When Gordon Beckham left Georgia for pro baseball after his junior season last year, it was thought the Bulldogs were bidding farewell to a once-a-generation player.

Based on what Rich Poythress is doing this season, you’d have to amend that to say “once-a-season.”

Poythress is on pace to better Beckham’s record-breaking season last year. The Bulldogs’ first baseman is hitting .451 with 13 homers and 49 RBI through 27 games. Beckham, who’s now flourishing in the Chicago White Sox organization, hit .411 with 28 homers and 78 RBI with Georgia last season.

“It’s right along the lines of what Gordon was doing,” said Georgia coach David Perno, whose No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (24-3) face LSU in a three-game series that starts tonight at Foley Field. “It’s pretty special to have two players like that back-to-back years. Rich has got to be in every conversation right now about being one of the best players in the country.”

Poythress, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound junior from Grovetown (Augusta area), has been knocking the cover off the baseball all season — and in the past week or so in particular. Over the past last five games he’s batting .556 (10-for-18) with four home runs and 12 RBI. Not surprisingly, he was named player of the week by virtually every national service that offers one this week.

Poythress’ pace is ahead of that set by Beckham, who was hitting .435 with 15 homers and 36 RBI through the same number of games last season. Beckham finished with a single-season school RBI record of 77, an average of 1.08 RBI a game. Poythress had 75 last year, which is second on the list. He is averaging 1.81 RBI per game his year.

“Obviously Gordon played a much tougher position [shortstop] from a defensive standpoint,” Perno said. “But all and all the numbers are pretty close, almost identical. And you’re talking about two different teams two different years and 27 games into it. They’re the same guy.”

You won’t get Poythress to say that. He and Beckham hit back-to-back last season and they remain buddies who talk at least once a week. Poythress was not about to compare himself to the Bulldogs’ iconic shortstop.

“I’m definitely not Gordon,” Poythress said with a laugh. “I just try to show up every day and try to help this club win.”

You could say he’s had a part of it. He had game-deciding hits in both games against Clemson this week. In his first nine plate appearances in last weekend’s series against the Vols, Poythress was 6-for-6 with four home runs, two doubles and three walks. He enters today’s game ranked in the top three in the SEC in nine offensive categories, including first in batting average, on-base percentage and RBI.

The Bulldogs come into this weekend’s contests having won 10 of their last 11. The lone blemish was an inexplicable home loss to Wright State last week.

“We play in the toughest baseball conference in the country,” Poythress said. “Every weekend’s a grind. LSU is as good as anybody in the country, a heck of a pitching staff and one of the most explosive offenses in the country. We’ve got to be ready to play. We all feel really good about where we’re at. We know it’s very early and there’s a long way to go.”

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