UGA baseball opens 2012 season today

Georgia coach David Perno  and the Bulldogs were tabbed to finish third in the SEC Eastern Division.

Georgia coach David Perno and the Bulldogs were tabbed to finish third in the SEC Eastern Division.

ATHENS — Georgia opens the 2012 season at Foley Field today against Presbyterian College at 5:30 p.m. The series continues Saturday and Sunday with games at 2 p.m. each day.

Georgia, which begins the season ranked in all four major polls — including No. 11 by Baseball America — welcomes back eight starters from last season headlined by senior Levi Hyams (.332-5-38 in 2011) at second base and junior Kyle Farmer (.308-8-58 in 2011) at shortstop. A familiar face in a new place is senior Colby May (.222-2-5 in 2011) as he moves from the hot corner to first base. A pair of freshmen to watch will be left fielder Hunter Cole and designated hitter Jared Walsh. Walsh will split time with junior Brett DeLoach (.263-5-27 in 2011).

The Georgia coaching staff returns intact from a year ago with David Perno at the helm for his 11th season.

Redshirt sophomore LHP Alex Wood (6-7, 4.44 ERA in 2011) draws the opening-day start. When UGA fans last saw Wood, he was instrumental in extending Georgia’s 2011 season. He tossed his first career complete game in beating Auburn, 3-2, to keep Georgia’s season alive in the SEC Tournament and then followed it up with eight strong innings in beating Arkansas at Little-Rock, 7-3, in an elimination game at the NCAA Corvallis (Ore.) Regional.

Senior RHP Michael Palazzone (10-5, 3.14 ERA in 2011) will take the hill Saturday. He is one of the top returning pitchers in the SEC after posting seven wins over ranked foes in 2011. During the SEC regular season, he went 7-2 with a 3.22 ERA and three complete games. Palazzone’s wins include beating No. 3 Vanderbilt, No. 4 Florida, No. 5 Florida State, No. 9 LSU, No. 14 Arkansas and No. 24 Mississippi State. He made the SEC All-Tournament team, going 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in two appearances. On two days rest following a loss to No. 3 Vanderbilt, he went 4 1/3 innings and allowed one unearned run in getting a win in relief over No. 3 Florida to reach the SEC Tournament semifinals and qualify the Bulldogs for an NCAA at-large bid.

Georgia returns the rotation that it used down the stretch in 2011 anchored by Palazzone and Wood. However, with closer Tyler Maloof (18 saves in 2011) sidelined with an injury until March, junior Blake Dieterich (3-3, 3.67 ERA, 2 SV in 2011) will move to the bullpen/closer role instead of his projected No. 3 starter slot. Thus, redshirt-freshman RHP Taylor Hicks gets the first look at that weekend spot.

Georgia played the nation's toughest schedule last season and posted a 33-32 mark, reaching the finals of the NCAA Corvallis (Ore.) Regional.

The Bulldogs were tabbed to finish third in the SEC Eastern Division by league coaches. Florida is the preseason favorite to win the division and the league with two-time defending national champion South Carolina picked second in the East.