Thursday, February 23, 2012 Updated: February 24, 11:38 AM ET
In No. 9 spot, Powell helps power Dawgs
By David Ching DawgNation
ATHENS, Ga. -- Since his family owns a barbecue restaurant in Tennessee, perhaps it fits that Curt Powell's role is to help Georgia's offense get cooking from his spot in the bottom of the batting order.
The junior third baseman filled that role effectively in the season's first week with dynamic production from the No. 9 spot in the lineup, helping the Bulldogs get off to their first 4-0 start since 2009.
"Those top guys in the top part of the order, they were seeing a lot of pitches and putting a lot of pressure on the pitcher," Powell said. "When they got to [me and No. 8 hitter Brandon Stephens], maybe they relaxed a little bit and maybe they didn't, but it definitely took a lot of pressure off us. We felt like we could just swing away, and both of us had a pretty good weekend."
Batting No. 8, Brandon Stephens benefits just as much from pitchers who might be relaxing a little too much at that point in Georgia's lineup.
"Pretty good" is an understatement, as both players went 3-for-4 in last Friday's season-opening win against Presbyterian and batted around .500 for the three-game series.
Powell still leads the team with a .500 batting average (6-for-12), along with five runs, two doubles, a triple and two RBIs entering today's game against Winthrop at Foley Field.
"We'll probably just keep Curt there because it's almost like a second leadoff hitter," Georgia coach David Perno said. "I've always believed that and I know the guy, whoever's hitting one -- whether it be Conor [Welton] or Pete [Verdin] -- probably enjoys the nine-hole guy always being on in front of him. He was huge for us and he's capable of being a really, really good SEC player, so it wasn't a big surprise."
Although he was third on the team with a .289 average and .358 on-base percentage last season, Powell said he is comfortable in his role at the bottom of the order.
Like Perno said, Powell views himself as a second leadoff hitter capable of setting the table for big innings by reaching base ahead of the Bulldogs' sluggers who follow.
"I need to have pretty good at-bats," Powell said. "Maybe if I have a long at-bat, then when it gets back to the top of the order they can see a better pitch because he used so many pitches on me. And maybe he just relaxes for a second and that's when we jump on him."
Getting production from players lower in the order, such as Powell and Stephens, will be critical for the Bulldogs' offense, Perno said.
Obviously the majority of Georgia's run production will come from the heavy hitters in the middle of the lineup, including Levi Hyams, Kyle Farmer and freshman slugger Hunter Cole. But the Bulldogs become that much more dangerous with the balance that comes when Stephens and Powell also reach base.
"That's something that can be a huge advantage going in," Perno said, "when you go into big games and sometimes everybody looks at those 3-4-5 hitters and has a great plan of pitching them and you've got to get picked up somewhere else in the lineup. To have Curt and Brandon do what they did at the bottom of the order is just huge."
David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.