Heading into Saturday morning's super-regional game against the Gamecocks, my concern was with South Carolina's starting pitcher, Harris Honeycutt.
I needn't have worried. Georgia could have had a great day versus Honeycutt and it wouldn't have been anywhere near enough.
Honeycutt came into Saturday morning's game with a 6-0 record for the season, having last been seen riding a motorcycle away from the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit in Ouijongbu, South Korea, after leaving a heartfelt "goodbye," spelled out in rocks, for his former bunkmate and fellow surgeon, Captain Benjamin Franklin (Hawkeye) Pierce.
Things weren't altogether awful from the outset. The Palmetto State Poultry's Chris Brown grounded out to second base to lead off the top of the first inning, then Neil Giesler popped up and, just like that, the Bulldogs' Mickey Westphal had thrown four pitches and recorded two outs. So far, so good.
Then is when it all started to unravel for the home team. Justin Smoak put a single into right center field, then Phil Disher punched a base hit through the left side on a payoff pitch. Andrew Crisp's ensuing home run plated a trio of runs to give the Gamecocks a 3-0 lead. Robbie Grinestaff tacked on another hit, but the South Carolina left fielder did not come around to score, as Ian Paxton hit into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
The top of the Georgia order came and went quickly in the bottom of the frame, as Honeycutt retired the first three batters he faced, throwing one ball, four strikes, and three pitches that were put into play, becoming, respectively, a groundout and a pair of flyouts.
The second stanza commenced and the Big Chickens were back in business. James Darnell and Reese Havens led off by flying out to center, but, once again, the visiting team did all its damage with two outs already on the board. Brown worked the count to 3-2 before drawing a base on balls, then Giesler put the first pitch he saw over the right field wall to make it 5-0.
It turned out that the South Carolina third baseman had started a trend, as the next four Gamecocks to come to bat went yard on the Diamond Dogs. Smoak homered to left center. Disher homered to center field. Crisp homered to left field. Grinestaff homered to right field.
Finally, Paxton flied out to end the inning, but, by that point, the Palmetto State Poultry had built up a 9-0 lead and Westphal had been relieved by Stephen Dodson. For all intents and purposes, the game was over.
The problem with Saturday's baseball game was simple. There was too much of these kinds of 'Cocks . . .
Nevertheless, the Red and Black continued valiantly plugging away at their assigned task. Josh Morris got the bottom of the second frame going with a base hit. Bobby Felmy's ensuing strikeout did not deter Jason Jacobs from punching a single into left field. Kyle Keen's ensuing single loaded the bases with one man out, thereby opening the door for a big inning that would get Georgia right back into it.
Alas, it was not to be. Ryan Peisel went down swinging, Matthew Dunn grounded out, and the score remained 9-0 heading into the third inning. Thankfully, Dodson did an admirable job of damage control, giving up a base hit to Brown but inducing the other three Gamecock batters to ground out in short order.
In the bottom of the frame, Georgia at long last put together some offense. After Jonathan Wyatt grounded out to start the inning, Joey Side put Honeycutt's next pitch through the left side for a single and the pitch immediately thereafter plunked Gordon Beckham to put the Bulldog shortstop aboard.
Morris walked on four straight pitches, once again giving the Diamond Dogs three men on and one man out, but this time the home team was able to capitalize . . . if only barely. Felmy and Jacobs each worked the count full, but, whereas the Bulldog right fielder swung at strike three, the Georgia catcher drew the base on balls that plated the home team's first run of the day. Any hope of a rally was squelched when Keen turned Honeycutt's next pitch into a groundout.
Dodson retired the side quickly in the top of the fourth, but no Bulldog reached first base in the second half of the frame, so the Gamecocks went right back on offense. South Carolina led off the fifth inning with a Grinestaff single up the middle. Paxton's ensuing base hit put runners at the corners, then Darnell hit one out to right field to make it 12-1 in favor of the visiting team.
At that juncture, it scarcely mattered that, despite a Georgia error, no further Gamecocks crossed home plate in the inning; the fact remained that, at the halfway point of the contest, the Big Chickens held a double-digit lead.
. . . and not enough of this kind of Cox.
The next two innings largely were uneventful for either squad. Side doubled in the bottom of the fifth, Keen singled in the bottom of the sixth, and three Gamecocks singled in the top of the seventh, but no additional scoring occurred on either side until the second half of the seventh stanza, which got underway when Dunn walked on four straight pitches.
Wyatt followed that up with a triple to score Dunn, then Side walked and Beckham recorded an R.B.I. groundout to score Wyatt. After Morris reached base on an error, Felmy's single to right field brought Side the rest of the way around and, although Jacobs thereafter grounded into a double play to end the inning, the Diamond Dogs at least had clawed their way to a single-digit deficit of 12-4.
Perhaps emboldened by this turn of events, the Red and Black sent Jason Fellows to the mound at the top of the eighth inning. This proved to be a foolhardy move, for, although Fellows's first pitch produced a Smoak groundout, his second throw generated a Disher single. Fellows proceeded to walk Crisp on four straight pitches, then, on a 1-0 pitch to Grinestaff, he gave up a three-run shot to the South Carolina left fielder.
The next two Gamecock batters flied out, but the bottom of the eighth frame passed quickly, as a Keen pop-up, a Peisel flyout, and a Dunn strikeout sent the contest to the ninth stanza with the visitors holding a 15-4 lead.
Fortunately, Fellows prevented matters from getting any worse in the top of the final frame. The Bulldog reliever threw eight pitches, allowed one base hit, and recorded three outs to give the home team a final chance in the second half of the stanza.
Matters got off to a promising start when Wyatt led off with a base hit to center field. Side turned the next pitch into a triple, scoring the Georgia left fielder, then Beckham put a sacrifice fly into center field to plate another run. Only then was Honeycutt pulled in favor of reliever Chase Tucker, who got two strikes on Morris before surrendering a double to right center field to keep the rally going.
Chase was brought in to pitch the last two-thirds of the ninth after Honeycutt gave up two runs to start the inning.
Although the first four batters of the ninth frame demonstrated that there was still some fight in the Diamond Dogs, Tucker persuaded Felmy to fly out to left field and induced Jacobs to strike out swinging, stranding the Georgia first baseman in scoring position and giving the Gamecocks a 15-6 victory in the opening game of the super-regional.
Despite their comeback in the final three stanzas, the Bulldogs were outhit by the Palmetto State Poultry, 19-11, and were never really in the game. Once again, the Georgia baseball team has put itself in a hole . . . but, once again, the Red and Black will have the chance to bounce back and prove themselves worthy of a spot in the College World Series.
The second game of the best-of-three set will take place tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 at Foley Field, where the Diamond Dogs have an all-time record of 9-0 in N.C.A.A. elimination games.