Last night's win made me all the more anxious about tonight's contest. As noted by Paul Westerdawg, the conference standings were broken down by our good friend Jim From Duluth and the Diamond Dogs' position (17-11 in conference play, the No. 3 seed in the S.E.C. tourney, and still in possession of a shot at the division and conference crowns) made the second game of Georgia's three-game set with Kentucky all the more critical . . . especially since, as A Sea of Blue noted, the series was far from over.
Mercifully, the opening of Friday's outing was uneventful. The Bulldogs' Brooks Brown and the Wildcats' Craig Snipp each had a no-hitter going at the end of the first inning and all either team had to show for the second stanza was a Bobby Felmy walk, a Jason Jacobs single, and a Snipp pickoff.
If he pitched for the University of Kentucky, he would play under the name "Snipp Catt."
It was not until the top of the third frame that matters got interesting, albeit not in a good way for the Red and Black. U.K. designated hitter Billy Grace led off with a walk and Ryan Wilkes also drew a base on balls. A sacrifice bunt by Shaun Lehmann advanced both baserunners, whereupon Antone DeJesus walked to load the bases and remind us of the importance of the distinction between a no-hitter and a perfect game.
A Colin Cowgill sacrifice fly plated Grace to give the visitors a 1-0 lead and stolen bases by Wilkes and DeJesus put additional runners in scoring position. Fortunately, Sean Coughlin grounded out to end the inning and prevent further scoring, but, at the halfway point of the third, the Diamond Dogs had one hit but no runs, while the Bat Cats had one run but no hits.
Needs more Cowgill.
The Red and Black failed to alter either integer in the bottom of the frame, as the first two batters recorded outs before Jonathan Wyatt was hit by a pitch, took second base on a balk, and remained stranded in scoring position when Joey Side flied out to center field.
Brown did all the work in the top of the fourth, striking out Ryan Strieby, Michael Bertram, and John Shelby in succession. The Bulldogs went back on the offensive when Josh Morris followed up a Gordon Beckham strikeout with a single through the left side, then advanced on a wild pitch and proceeded as far as third base.
Felmy declined the opportunity to tie the game, swinging at the third strike to record the second out, and Jacobs drew a walk to put as many men on as there were men out. That left matters in the hands of Matt Olson and the Georgia designated hitter took his job description literally, driving a base hit up the middle to advance Jacobs and score Morris.
A subsequent error by the Kentucky catcher brought Olson to third and allowed the Georgia catcher to score an unearned run. Although Snipp succeeded in sneaking a called third strike past Ryan Peisel in the ensuing at-bat, the contest moved into the fifth inning with the home team having taken a 2-1 lead.
I'm almost positive that neither of the little girls from "Full House" grew up to be the Bulldogs' designated hitter.
The Bat Cats went back to work with gusto, as Grace put a loud out into left field and Wilkes knocked the first Kentucky hit of the night to center. In so doing, the Wildcat shortstop attained a statistical milestone of no practical consequence, as Lehmann thereafter grounded into a double play to end the inning, squelch the nascent scoring threat, and carry the contest to the halfway point of regulation play.
In the bottom of the fifth frame, Wyatt sandwiched a single to center between two strikeouts and Beckham belted a double to left field, bringing the Georgia left fielder home to give the Diamond Dogs a 3-1 advantage. Morris drew an intentional walk and Felmy flied out to conclude the inning.
DeJesus drew a leadoff walk to start the sixth stanza, which did not bode well. A Cowgill flyout in the next at-bat did little to calm my nerves and my fears were realized when Coughlin put a pitch over the center field wall for a two-run shot to even the contest. Strieby and Bertram were retired to conclude the top of the frame, but it was anybody's ballgame as the teams proceeded to the bottom of the inning.
Your new score in the middle of the sixth.
A single and a pair of walks came to naught in the home half of the frame, then the Bat Cats went right back on offense and, to my considerable chagrin, they once again made the most of their opportunity. Jason Leaver came on to pitch in place of Brown and he started out well, inducing Shelby to fly out to right field.
It was all downhill from there. Leaver struck Grace with a pitch and walked Wilkes before persuading Lehmann to line out. A DeJesus single plated one and a Cowgill homer scored three more. Coughlin struck out swinging to retire the side at last, but not before the Wildcats had taken a commanding 7-3 lead.
The bottom of the seventh consisted of a groundout, a pop-up, and a flyout, so the Bat Cats barely had time to catch their collective breath ere they once more sent men into the batter's box. Strieby led off with a strikeout, but then Kentucky began sending players to first base with regularity. Bertram singled, Shelby reached on a fielder's choice, and Grace and Wilkes walked. Only a Lehmann pop-up prevented another big inning and, mercifully, the Diamond Dogs' hole did not get deeper.
Nevertheless, the home team proved maddeningly incapable of clawing its way skyward, as, in the bottom of the inning, three Bulldogs approached the plate, recorded an out, and returned to the dugout successively but not successfully. The contest thus proceeded to the ninth with Georgia leading in hits (6-5) yet still trailing by four runs.
Were the wheels about to come off?
Leaver made way for Jason Fellows, who took the mound and immediately thereafter surrendered singles to DeJesus and Cowgill, the former of whom laid down a bunt for his base hit. Coughlin also bunted, sacrificing an out to move the baserunners over, and Fellows awarded Strieby the base thus left vacant on an intentional walk.
It therefore fell to Bertram to send a sacrifice fly into the left fielder's glove for the purpose of adding an insurance run. As though matters were not sufficiently dire already, a wild pitch allowed Cowgill and Streiby to advance. This left first base open again, so Shelby was given a deliberate pass, as well.
Mercifully, Grace grounded out to give the Red and Black their final chance. Snipp remained on the mound and demonstrated that he was deserving of the chance to record the complete game victory by coaxing Peisel to ground out to third and Matthew Dunn to ground out to second.
That about sums it up.
This brought the top of the order to the plate with two outs already recorded and a five-run deficit to be overcome. Wyatt spared the Bulldog faithful any nerve-wracking dramatics by going down swinging to end the inning, the game, the Georgia winning streak, and the possibility of a division crown for the Red and Black.
While the loss certainly is regrettable, the Bulldogs' 17-12 conference ledger remains the second best in the S.E.C. East, which ain't bad for a team that was battling for a conference tournament berth just two and a half weeks ago, when I felt moved to write the following:
While it certainly wouldn't hurt to have Arkansas and Vanderbilt lose a few, too, Georgia has the chance to make the conference tournament if the Bulldogs can continue their recent run of success.
Well, the Diamond Dogs won three out of three road games against Auburn, took three out of three from South Carolina at home, and have already beaten Kentucky once, with the rubber game of the series scheduled for Saturday.
In short, a 14-game winning streak would have been nice, but I'll take 13-1, won't you?