On the final afternoon of what was already a great weekend for the Gators, Florida arrived at Foley Field looking to complete a three-game series sweep of the Diamond Dogs.
The contest commenced with Justin Earls on the hill for the Red and Black. The Georgia hurler surrendered successive singles to Jon Townsend and Cole Figueroa to lead off the first frame before buckling down and inducing Matt LaPorta to ground into a double play following a 33-minute rain delay. Austin Pride's subsequent groundout stranded the Gator third baseman at his accustomed position on the diamond.
Florida shortstop Cole Figueroa went two for five on Sunday and scored a run, but, until he autographs a baseball card with his picture on it, he will continue to be regarded as a failure by his fellow Figueroas.
In the bottom of the inning, Matt Olson sandwiched a single to center field between a pair of flyouts by Jonathan Wyatt and Gordon Beckham, then the Bulldog right fielder took third when Rich Poythress reached on an error. Unfortunately, when Luke Stewart flied out, the Classic City Canines had squandered their scoring opportunity just as the Gators had wasted theirs.
The second stanza passed swiftly, with a Clayton Pisani single in the top of the inning and a Matt Cerione base hit in the bottom of the frame representing the only at-bats that failed to produce outs. The third canto began with back-to-back bases on balls drawn by Matt den Dekker and Townsend. After Figueroa grounded out to advance both Gator baserunners, LaPorta was walked intentionally to bring Pride to the plate.
The Florida left fielder struck out swinging, leaving the bases loaded for Cody Neer. The Orange and Blue catcher hit into a fielder's choice to squelch the big inning that might have been, leaving the contest scoreless heading into the bottom of the third stanza. Wyatt led off the home half of the frame with a walk, but the burst of enthusiasm occasioned by this auspicious start was dampened by Olson's ensuing flyout to left field.
When Beckham popped up to register the second out of the inning, the Georgia center fielder evidently decided that, if he wanted it done right, he'd have to do it himself. Wyatt attempted to steal second, but he was caught in the act and tagged out before reaching his intended destination.
What was more accurately described as a defensive struggle than a pitchers' duel continued in the fourth frame, when Jake Hicks grounded out and Pisani's walk was negated when Jonathan Pigott hit into a fielder's choice. The Gator right fielder was then caught stealing to end the top of the inning. After Poythress grounded out to start the bottom of the frame, Stewart recorded the single that evened the hits at three apiece, but the significance of this was nullified by Ryan Peisel's and Cerione's subsequent outs.
Pigott was held without a hit in five at-bats, but I'm sure Pooh will be there to console him when he gets back to the Hundred Acre Wood.
Den Dekker struck out, and Townsend grounded out, to start the fifth frame, but Figueroa managed to punch through a base hit in the next at-bat. LaPorta drew the walk that moved the Florida shortstop into scoring position, thereby ending Earls's time on the mound. The Georgia starter was relieved after facing 21 batters, giving up five walks, allowing four hits, recording three strikeouts, and surrendering no runs, earned or otherwise.
On came Trevor Holder, who proceeded to walk Chris Petrie and surrender the base hit to Neer that scored two runs before striking out Bryson Barber to end the inning. The Diamond Dogs had nothing more to show for the bottom of the fifth than a Wyatt single, so the Gators quickly came back up to bat. Fortunately, Florida failed to produce a baserunner in the top of the sixth stanza.
In the bottom of the inning, the Red and Black at long last undertook to get something going. Following a Beckham flyout, Poythress and Stewart registered consecutive base hits. Billy Bullock was pulled from the mound after coaxing a flyout from Peisel, having surrendered six hits to the 24 batters he had faced. David Hurst took over the pitching duties and gave up back-to-back bases on balls to Cerione and Joey Lewis, the latter of which brought home a run. With three men on, two men out, and the go-ahead run standing on second base, Matt Robbins struck out swinging.
Holder trotted back out to the mound to pitch the top of the seventh, walking Townsend before striking out Figueroa. After the Gator third baseman moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, LaPorta was given a free pass to first base. This proved to be a good move, as Petrie stared at a called third strike and Neer hit into a fielder's choice. Steven Porter got off to a promising start when called upon to pitch the bottom of the inning, as Wyatt and Olson grounded out in the first two at-bats.
After that, though, Beckham muscled a base hit into right field and a Poythress double in the ensuing at-bat tied the game before Stewart grounded out to conclude the seventh stanza and bring out Joshua Fields to pitch the eighth inning. The Georgia closer retired the side on a popup, a groundout, and a strikeout to put the Diamond Dogs back on the offensive.
Joshua Fields forever.
Peisel led off the home half of the eighth frame with a base hit. Cerione reached on a fielder's choice that cut down the lead runner, after which Porter was pulled and succeeded on the mound by Josh Edmondson. A Lewis single moved the Bulldog left fielder to second and a Miles Starr groundout advanced both baserunners into scoring position.
This brought Kevin Chapman to the hill and the fifth Florida hurler of the afternoon walked Wyatt to load the bases for Olson. The Red and Black right fielder grounded out to keep the contest snarled at a pair of runs apiece, despite the Classic City Canines' 10-5 lead in hits. Both margins were preserved in the top of the ninth inning, when the Gators went three up and three down.
To the bottom of the final scheduled stanza the contest went, with Kyle Mullaney becoming the latest pitcher for the Orange and Blue. He persuaded the first two Diamond Dogs he faced to fly out before surrendering a walk to Stewart. Blake Cannady was called upon to pinch run for the Georgia designated hitter and he advanced to second base on a balk before Peisel took first base on an error. Cerione then grounded out to send the game to bonus cantos.
LaPorta led off the top of the 10th with a single to center field. This was followed by a Petrie popup and a Neer flyout, then Barber popped up to give the Red and Black their chance to break the deadlock. Lewis and Starr began the bottom of the inning with consecutive flyouts to right field before a Wyatt strikeout necessitated an 11th inning.
Avery Barnes belted a base hit into center field to get the next extra stanza underway, but Pigott grounded into the double play that negated the Gator second baseman's efforts. With two outs away in the inning, den Dekker put a solo shot over the right field wall to give the Big Lizards a 3-2 lead. Townsend kept the frame alive with a base hit, then Figueroa drew a walk.
Gator pinch hitter and second baseman Avery Barnes recorded one hit in his two at-bats. As usual, his fellow members of the Barnes family reacted quite differently to this news, as his dour uncle, Cliff, saw the glass as half-empty, while his upbeat aunt, Pamela, viewed it as half-full.
Fields was taken from the game at that point. The would-be closer had faced 15 batters while giving up four hits and one earned run. Ryan Woolley was the next to pitch for the home team and he convinced LaPorta to fly out to left field, bringing the Bulldogs back up to bat for their last chance at claiming the victory. Olson began the proceedings with a popup, but Beckham gave the Red and Black some spark by doubling to left field.
With the tying run standing on second base, Poythress grounded out to move the Georgia shortstop 90 feet. Travis Parrott came on to pinch hit for Cannady and he grounded out to the pitcher to end the contest. The Classic City Canines collected two more hits than the opposition (11-9), but, despite the Gators' having committed two errors to the Bulldogs' none, the Orange and Blue nevertheless emerged victorious by a one-run margin.
The middle of the order did not perform poorly, as Gordon Beckham, Rich Poythress, and Luke Stewart combined to go six for 16 at the plate, but the top of the lineup once again failed to carry its weight, with Jonathan Wyatt and Matt Olson combining to hit two for 10 with no runs and no R.B.I. Over the course of the afternoon, Georgia left 15 men on base.
It is often said that good pitching beats good hitting, but, generally, the Diamond Dogs' pitching is adequate, even if not outstanding. The problem is that the Red and Black are getting hits without scoring runs, maddeningly stranding baserunner after baserunner in inning after inning while the other team generates just enough offense to get the job done.
Georgia has been swept in two straight S.E.C. series and the Bulldogs' prospects for improvement in 2007 appear poor, even if hopeful fans of the Classic City Canines may look forward to an experienced, battle-tested team making a College World Series run in 2008.