After dropping games against the Trojans on Friday and Saturday, the Diamond Dogs limped into Foley Field on Sunday afternoon hoping to salvage some small sliver of their series against Southern California. Jason Leaver was called upon to contain the U.S.C. offense, which he failed to do in what can only be characterized as spectacular fashion.
Leaver retired the initial batter he faced in the top of the first frame, but it was all downhill from there. Grant Green took first base on a walk. Darren Gemoll and J.J. Owen both singled, with the Trojan first baseman advancing to second on the throw and the Southern California designated hitter being out at third. Although Johnny Bowden walked, as well, Lucas Duda grounded out to end the inning, but already the visitors were up 1-0.
Although Grant Green was one for three with two walks and a pair of runs, he is best known for portraying Kicking Bird in "Dances With Wolves."
Matt Cerione led off the bottom of the first by drawing a base on balls, but Ryan Peisel proceeded to ground into a double play and Jonathan Wyatt ended the inning with a groundout of his own. Leaver's troubles continued in the second stanza, which got underway when Hector Estrella punched a base hit into center field. Roberto Lopez put a single into right field to advance the U.S.C. second baseman, which allowed a Hector Rabago double to bring Estrella home.
Nick Buss lined out and Green hit into a fielder's choice that ended in the Trojans right fielder being out at home, but Gemoll's subsequent single brought in two additional runs. The Trojans were not through, as Owen singled in the next at-bat, but Leaver's day was done. The Georgia starter faced 13 batters, recorded five outs, and surrendered seven hits, two walks, and four earned runs.
Reliever Dean Weaver replaced Jason Leaver and, although Gemoll stole third and Owen stole second on his watch, the new Bulldog pitcher accomplished his immediate objective, striking out Bowden to bring the home team to the plate. Unfortunately, the bases on balls drawn by Joey Lewis and Matt Olson in the bottom of the second frame were offset by Gordon Beckham's, Luke Stewart's, and Jake Crane's flyouts.
Weaver's first full inning's worth of work commenced favorably, as he got Duda to chase strike three, but the Red and Black reliever surrendered base hits to each of the next three Trojan batters. That trio of singles, coupled with an error and a stolen base, generated another U.S.C. run, and matters were made worse by Buss's R.B.I. groundout to score Lopez.
After Green drew a walk, Gemoll grounded out to the pitcher, ending both the top of the third frame and Weaver's turn on the hill. The Georgia relief man faced eight batters and recorded four outs, striking out two while walking one, but he also permitted two earned runs on a trio of hits, returning to the dugout with his team down 6-0. That margin remained unchanged after the bottom of the third frame, as no Diamond Dog reached first base in the home half of the inning.
Dean Weaver did little to stop the bleeding for the Diamond Dogs on Sunday afternoon, but he has the consolation of having played Sam McCloud from 1970 to 1977.
To the fourth inning the contest went, with Justin Earls coming on to pitch for the Red and Black. Although he gave up a leadoff single to Owen, the third Georgia hurler of the afternoon induced Bowden to ground into a double play and coaxed a flyout from Duda to prevent additional damage from being done. This afforded the home team an opportunity, of which they took at least partial advantage.
Wyatt flied out to begin the proceedings, but a Beckham double and a Stewart walk set the table for Lewis, who promptly popped up to give Olson the chance to be the hero. The Georgia left fielder welcomed the chance to generate some offense, as he put the double into center field that scored two of his teammates ere a Crane flyout ended the fourth frame with the gap now closed to 6-2.
So as to bring the home team back up to bat as swiftly as possible, Earls retired the side in short order in the top of the fifth stanza. With two outs gone in the bottom of the inning, Peisel dropped a double into left field and came home on an R.B.I. single by Wyatt. Beckham recorded the final out in the next at-bat, but the Southern California advantage had been halved, as the Diamond Dogs trailed 6-3.
Again Earls faced three batters in the top of the inning before bringing the home team back up to the plate and again the Red and Black's first two batters recorded outs. This time, though, the third batter strode to the plate and, rather than do something dramatic and heroic, he opted instead to keep the proceedings moving along and popped up to conclude the first two-thirds of the scheduled duration of the contest.
Earls continued to work with dispatch, preventing any of the three Trojans he encountered in the top of the seventh inning from making it out of the batter's box. He returned to the dugout having completed four innings' worth of work, during which the reliever gave up two hits to a dozen batters without once surrendering either a walk or a run. Given yet another chance to capitalize on the reliability of Earls's efforts on the mound, Crane led off the bottom of the seventh stanza with a base hit to right field, at long last chasing U.S.C. starter Tommy Milone from the mound after six innings, five hits, four walks, three runs, and two strikeouts.
Tommy Milone gave U.S.C. a quality start as Sunday afternoon's pitcher. Unfortunately for him, he is destined to wash out as a major league hurler after his eventual alcoholism gets the better of him, at which point he will open up a bar in Boston and begin an on-again/off-again relationship with Diane Chambers.
On came Kevin Couture to pitch for Southern California and, alas, on came Mike Freeman to fly out for Georgia. With one out already recorded and the tying run in the on-deck circle, Cerione failed to put the ball into play or even to take the bat off his shoulder, as the Bulldog right fielder watched the third strike sail past him and into the catcher's mitt. Peisel then proceeded to ground out to third base, leaving Crane stranded and the three-run deficit intact.
The Trojans once again were kept from tacking additional runs onto their total, as a base hit by Lopez was all the visiting team accomplished in the top of the eighth. In the bottom half of the inning, Wyatt led off by walking and stealing second, setting the stage for a Beckham double to bring the Diamond Dogs one run closer to tying the game. Although Stewart lined out in the next at-bat, Lewis's base hit into right field moved the Georgia shortstop to third and drove Couture from the mound. His successor, Robert Stock, threw four balls to Olson but followed that up by procuring the requisite two outs to end the threat.
The Trojans thus carried a two-run lead into the ninth inning, where there were several substitutions, both in the field and on the basepaths, but none was more important than the arrival of Joshua Fields on the mound. The Georgia closer surrendered a base hit to Owen but kept U.S.C. from adding to its advantage. This gave the Diamond Dogs a final chance at redemption, which it initially appeared they had every intention of squandering.
Cerione led off by striking out and Peisel was unable to outrun the opposing pitcher to first base. With two outs already gone and all hope seemingly lost, Wyatt knocked a base hit into center field and stole second base. After Beckham was plunked, both Bulldog baserunners stole a base, allowing Stewart to bring home a pair of runs on a base hit to left field. The next Bulldog batter recorded the final out of the inning, but the Red and Black, who had trailed 6-0 after three stanzas, had tied the game at the end of regulation.
Bonus cantos then ensued and the visitors did not appear demoralized by their Georgia-like collapse. Spencer Pabst put down a bunt for a single and Estrella brought the Southern California left fielder around to third with a base hit into right field. The U.S.C. second baseman then stole second, whereupon Michael Torres put a sacrifice fly into center field to score the run the Trojans needed to retake the lead.
Southern California left fielder Spencer Pabst went one for one and scored a run. Also, in "Blue Velvet," Frank Booth emphatically preferred him over Heineken.
Although no additional damage was done in the top of the 10th, the Diamond Dogs were spent from the exertion of playing catch-up ball. Matt Robbins lined out, Crane was hit by a pitch, Miles Starr grounded out, and Cerione stared at strike three, bringing the exciting game to a close with a whimper rather than a bang.
As has been the case all season long, the Diamond Dogs performed well in some areas but not in enough aspects of the game to get the win. Justin Earls and Joshua Fields between them pitched seven innings, giving up six hits and one run to 24 batters, striking out four and walking none. However, Jason Leaver's and Dean Weaver's disastrous opening three innings put the home team in too deep a hole, as they surrendered six runs on 10 hits to 21 batters, only two of whom were retired on strikeouts.
As usual, Jonathan Wyatt rendered yeoman's service, going two for four at the plate, with a couple of runs and an R.B.I. to his credit. Nevertheless, the Red and Black offensive attack was hampered by the fact that leadoff hitter Matt Cerione, designated hitter Joey Lewis, pinch hitter Travis Parrott, and pinch hitter Matt Robbins between them combined to go one for 11 with no R.B.I. and no runs scored.
The Red and Black are this close to being a good team. Four of their seven losses have come by such scores as 10-8, 4-3, 4-2, and, now, 7-6 in extra innings. As soon as Georgia develops the knack for holding leads and closing the deal, this team will be able to make some noise . . . but, for now, the Diamond Dogs are a squad that, while falling only just short, nevertheless continues to fail to live up to its considerable potential.