The Diamond Dogs' opening College World Series game on Saturday was against the Rice Owls, a team with a No. 2 national seed and a strong baseball pedigree, so the challenge posed was a daunting one.
This made it all the more encouraging when Jonathan Wyatt led off the first inning with a walk, although my confidence took a hit when Joey Side struck out, Wyatt was caught stealing, and Gordon Beckham also swung at a third strike. Fortunately, Brooks Brown matched Rice starting pitcher Eddie Degerman in the bottom of the frame, inducing Tyler Henley to put his second pitch into left field for a flyout and catching Greg Buchanan and Brian Friday looking on called third strikes.
Rice center fielder Tyler Henley went hitless in four at-bats.
In the top of the second inning, the Red and Black once again led off with a walk, as Josh Morris drew a base on balls . . . then so did Bobby Felmy . . . then, following a Jason Jacobs sacrifice bunt, so did Matt Olson. Caught in a jam, Degerman proceeded to strike out Ryan Peisel and Matthew Dunn in succession to prevent a run from crossing home plate. Similarly, Brown gave free passes to Josh Rodriguez and Joe Savery to initiate the bottom of the inning before getting a strikeout, a flyout, and a groundout from the next three Owl batters.
The third frame was more of the same, as no Bulldogs reached first base in the top of the stanza and, aside from Henley being hit by a pitch and Friday drawing a base on balls, Rice had nothing to show for the bottom of the inning. After a Felmy walk and little else in the top of the fourth stanza, the Owls took a lead in the bottom of the frame.
Savery put the second pitch he saw into center field for a base hit. Although Aaron Luna went down swinging, a wild pitch allowed the Rice first baseman to advance to second. Danny Lehmann popped up for the second out of the inning, but a Jordan Dodson single and a Diamond Dog fielding error scored Savery before Adam Zornes struck out looking to conclude the fourth.
An Olson walk and a Friday single were all either team had to show for the fifth frame and the Bulldogs sent three batters to the plate in the top of the sixth stanza, all of whom were unsuccessful in their efforts to reach first base. This enabled the Owls to build on their lead in the bottom of the inning, beginning with Rodriguez's leadoff single to right field.
Rice shortstop Brian Friday went two for four with an R.B.I. and a run.
Savery's ensuing base hit moved the Rice third baseman to his accustomed spot on the diamond, then Luna was plunked to load the bases. Lehmann put the first pitch he saw into left field for a sacrifice fly that scored Rodriguez and brought Rip Warren to the mound in relief of Brown. Warren expended six pitches and recorded a pair of outs to prevent additional scoring.
Down 2-0 with two-thirds of the contest already in the record books, the Diamond Dogs went to work in the top of the seventh stanza. Felmy and Jacobs drew consecutive walks to start the inning, then, after Kyle Keen struck out swinging, Peisel punched an R.B.I. single up the middle to plate Felmy. To the bullpen the Owls went, sending Cole St. Clair on in relief of Degerman.
The Rice reliever's first pitch was put into play by Dunn and a throwing error on the play allowed Jacobs to come around and score. Wyatt added a base hit of his own, bringing Peisel home, giving the Diamond Dogs a 3-2 lead, and getting St. Clair pulled in favor of Bryce Cox.
Cox's second toss to the plate came right back up the middle, giving Side an R.B.I. as the Georgia center fielder's base hit scored Dunn. An additional single was surrendered to Beckham before Morris and Felmy recorded the outs that ended the inning.
Rice relief pitcher Bryce Cox gave up two hits and no runs in two and two-thirds innings' worth of work.
It began to appear promising for the Red and Black when the first pitch thrown in the bottom of the seventh frame produced a Henley groundout. Georgia held a two-run lead and was eight outs away from victory. Alas, it was not to be: Buchanan put the inning's second pitch past the shortstop for a single, then Friday brought the Rice second baseman the rest of the way around with a double down the left field line.
Subsequent singles by Rodriguez and Savery plated two additional runs to give the Owls a 5-4 lead. An insurance run was added when Luna was plunked, Lehmann went down swinging, and Dodson singled to center field. Zornes thereafter struck out to end the inning.
No Bulldog reached base in the top of the eighth and Joshua Fields came on to pitch the second half of that same frame, giving up a base hit to Buchanan but otherwise retiring the side without incident. This brought the Red and Black to the plate for their final chance to reclaim the lead in the top of the ninth, but the inning was without dramatics, as Dunn lined out and Wyatt and Side each grounded out, bringing the contest to a close.
Saturday's result in Omaha was disappointing. On the plus side, Uma Thurman has a new movie out in which she wears a red and black outfit emblazoned with the letter "G," which ought to go over very well here in Bulldog Nation.
As was the case in the S.E.C tournament and the N.C.A.A. regional round, the Diamond Dogs must proceed through the loser's bracket and Georgia is slated to play again on Monday afternoon against the loser of the Miami-Oregon State game, which was delayed by lightning at last report.