Since Georgia lost on Saturday and South Carolina lost on Sunday, neither squad could afford a loss in Monday evening's outing . . . so I suppose it stood to reason that the Gamecocks sent Wynn Pelzer to the mound in the top of the first frame.
Pelzer made short shrift of the side in the opening stanza, coaxing a pair of flyouts and a strikeout from the first three batters he faced and bringing Jason Leaver to the mound facing the challenge of doing the same to the Gamecocks.
Dave Perno, like Archimedes, was convinced that, with a fulcrum and a Leaver, he could move the world.
The Georgia starter expended eight pitches on leadoff hitter Chris Brown before the South Carolina second baseman flied out to right field. Neil Giesler punched the first pitch he saw into center field for a base hit, but Leaver's next pitch found its way from Justin Smoak's bat to Bobby Felmy's glove and Phil Disher swung at strike three to strand the Big Chickens' third baseman.
Josh Morris led off the second inning by grounding out, but Felmy drew a base on balls off of four straight pitches to become the first Bulldog baserunner of the night. Jason Jacobs did not help his team's cause by fouling out on a 2-0 pitch, but Matt Olson kept the inning alive with a base hit through the right side to put runners at the corners. Regrettably, Ryan Peisel hit into a fielder's choice to end the inning ere Felmy could cross home plate.
The contest went to the bottom of the frame, in which Andrew Crisp was out at first and Robbie Grinestaff should have been, although what looked suspiciously like an error was scored as a hit when the South Carolina left fielder reached base. Grinestaff did not remain on the basepaths for long, though, as Ian Paxton hit into a fielder's choice on the first pitch thrown to him and James Darnell similarly recorded an out at second base to conclude the second stanza.
Matthew Dunn got the third inning underway with a walk, then Jonathan Wyatt muscled a base hit into left field to move the Georgia second baseman over to third. Pelzer appeared to be more focused on the Bulldog on first base than on the Bulldog in the batter's box and Joey Side made him pay for his inattention, belting a single into right field to give the Red and Black a 3-2 lead in hits and a 1-0 lead in runs.
Gordon Beckham next reached on a fielder's choice to advance Wyatt, after which Morris singled up the middle to bring the Georgia left fielder home. A pair of groundouts ensued, thereby ending the inning without additional scoring, but the Diamond Dogs carried a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the third.
Josh Morris's base hit in the third inning gave the Diamond Dogs an early advantage. (Photograph courtesy University of Georgia Athletic Association.)
Georgia did not retain the lead for long. Reese Havens led off with a home run to right center field to halve the Bulldog advantage, then Brown put himself into scoring position with a double. Although Giesler popped up, Smoak punched through another double to even the score and, after Disher grounded out, Crisp added a base hit and Smoak scored an unearned run on a Georgia error.
Grinestaff concluded the third frame by striking out, but still the Palmetto State Poultry held a 3-2 advantage over the Classic City Canines. The fourth frame amounted to little, as Peisel's single in the top of the inning gave Georgia its only baserunner and, when Trevor Holder came on as the reliever for Leaver, he managed to get each of the first three batters he faced to fly out.
The fifth inning did not get off to a good start for the Diamond Dogs, as Side and Beckham each recorded outs. Morris, however, was hit by a pitch, then Felmy and Jacobs walked to load the bases. When Pelzer plunked Olson on an 0-2 pitch, every Bulldog advanced one base and Morris came home to even the scoring at three runs apiece.
Peisel subsequently fouled out to prevent the Red and Black from retaking the lead, so the Big Chickens again got their turn at bat. Brown put a loud out into Felmy's glove to open the bottom of the fifth frame, then Giesler singled to center field and took second base on a Smoak groundout. With a runner in scoring position, Disher worked the count full but Holder held, blowing the third strike by the Gamecock D.H. before he could get around on it.
Dunn led off the sixth stanza with a walk, then Wyatt likewise drew a base on balls. That, plus a 2-0 count to start out against Side, got Pelzer a visit on the mound, after which he threw ball three to the Bulldog center fielder. The South Carolina starter then settled down somewhat, throwing a strike with his next pitch and inducing Side to fly out with the one thereafter.
Beckham came to the plate and swung at the first pitch he saw, putting it into center field for a flyout that advanced Dunn to third. From there, the Georgia second baseman scored on a wild pitch, so it hardly mattered when Morris struck out looking after working the count full, for the Diamond Dogs, despite trailing 7-5 in hits, now led 4-3 in runs.
In the sixth inning, Wynn Pelzer was "The Wild Thing" . . . only not in a good way.
Rip Warren took the mound to pitch the bottom of the sixth stanza and, after surrendering a leadoff walk to Crisp, he redeemed himself partially by knocking down a pitch that was sent right back at him in time to throw Grinestaff out at first. With a runner now in scoring position, Warren took no chances, striking out Paxton before getting Darnell to ground out to third to end the inning.
Felmy led off the top of the seventh frame with a home run to left center field. The Diamond Dogs decided to push their advantage, as Jacobs turned the next pitch into a single and took second base on an error by Pelzer. Kyle Keen came on as a pinch hitter and, on the first pitch thrown to him, he laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the Red and Black catcher to third base . . . and, to add insult to injury, Keen was safe at first due to an error by the third baseman.
After Keen stole second and Peisel walked on four straight pitches, the Big Chickens had seen enough. Pelzer was pulled with three men on and no men out, whereupon the hurling duties devolved upon Chase Tucker. After throwing two balls to Dunn, Tucker put three straight strikes across the plate and got the Georgia second baseman looking.
After digging himself an 0-2 hole, Wyatt fouled off Tucker's next pitch to stay alive and worked the count to 2-2 before punching a single up the middle to plate a pair of runs and build on the Bulldog lead. Not content with a four-run advantage, Side parked a triple in center field to bring two more Diamond Dogs around, giving Georgia nine runs on nine hits.
Conor Lalor came on to pitch for the Palmetto State Poultry and his first three pitches to Beckham were balls. Lalor sneaked in a strike just for the sake of variety before walking the Red and Black shortstop. The South Carolina reliever somehow managed to get Morris to strike out before giving up a two-run triple to Felmy, then Jacobs' ensuing flyout ended the inning before the mercy rule could.
"Lalor . . . you've got me on my knees, Lalor . . . begging, pitcher, please, Lalor. . . ."
Just when all was going well for the Diamond Dogs, Brown had to go and spoil it by belting a home run off of Warren to cut the lead to a touchdown. Fortunately, the Gamecock second baseman's solo shot was sandwiched amid a Havens flyout, a Giesler strikeout, and a Smoak groundout, so no further damage was done and the contest proceeded to the eighth inning without undue delay.
Lalor obviously had settled down between innings, as he was able to persuade both Keen and Peisel to strike out swinging before convincing Dunn to fly out, so the Gamecocks were able to go right back on offense. In this particular instance, "offense" consisted of a Disher groundout and a Crisp flyout, after which Warren was succeeded on the hill by Nathan Moreau.
The change of pitchers brought about a change of fortunes for the Big Chickens, as Grinestaff worked the count full before drawing a walk and Paxton doubled to put the South Carolina left fielder 90 feet from home plate. As it was no time to monkey around with an 11-4 lead, Moreau was given the quick hook and Joshua Fields was brought on to prevent needless dramatics.
Cheyne Hurst, who was called upon to pinch hit for the guy who previously had been called upon to pinch hit for Darnell, was down 0-2 in the count before he scored Grinestaff on a single to left field that evened the hitting at 10 apiece. That brought Havens up to bat in an inning that had gone on for far too long already and Fields had had enough, so he got the Gamecock shortstop to line out in order to get the ninth frame underway at long last.
Wyatt led off the final scheduled stanza by recording his third hit in five at-bats, putting a single into center field. After Side flied out, Beckham drew a base on balls to put the Georgia left fielder in scoring position. Morris struck out swinging before Forrest Beverly was brought out of the bullpen and onto the mound to record the final out of top of the inning. This he did when Felmy reached on a fielder's choice that had the Red and Black shortstop out at second base.
Pitch, Forrest, pitch!
The Palmetto State Poultry had one final chance to catch the Classic City Canines and, at first, it appeared as though the Big Chickens would make the most of it. The first pitch Fields threw in the bottom of the frame was turned into a triple by Brown and the South Carolina second baseman was brought home by Giesler when the Gamecock third baseman traded an out for a run.
Although both teams had 11 hits, only one squad had 11 runs and, in an effort to prevent South Carolina from further narrowing the gap, Fields coaxed a flyout out of Smoak to put the Fighting Fowl one out away from elimination. The Bulldog closer then went after the Gamecock designated hitter all by himself, putting a called third strike past Disher to close out the contest and send the Diamond Dogs to Omaha.
The Red and Black will face Rice in the College World Series, but, for now, let's savor the victory and celebrate another Georgia run through the N.C.A.A. baseball postseason.