The Diamond Dogs had a date with the Diamond Hogs in Athens on Friday night and the visiting team posed a daunting challenge. At 11-4 in S.E.C. play, the Razorbacks arrived in the Classic City sporting the league's best record against conference competition. The Red and Black's 5-10 S.E.C. ledger placed the home team well behind their opponent in the standings.
I was afraid this game might get ugly, so I decided to start out with a picture of Kristin Davis as a way of providing contrast.
Friday evening's pitching assignment fell to Stephen Dodson, who retired the first three Razorbacks to stand in against him, striking out two of them in the top of the opening frame. Ryan Peisel opened the home half of the stanza with a groundout, which Jonathan Wyatt followed with a base hit. After Gordon Beckham took a called third strike, Rich Poythress dropped a single into center field to put runners at the corners. Although Matt Olson popped up, the Red and Black had shown some spark in the initial canto.
Jeff Nutt reached base on an error to begin the second inning, but, after Casey Coon popped up, Ben Tschepikow grounded into the double play that ended the visitors' turn at bat quicker than you can spell "Tschepikow." The Classic City Canines came back up to bat, getting the bottom of the frame off to the best of starts when Joey Lewis knocked one over the left field wall.
Perhaps in frustration over giving up the home run, Nick Schmidt plunked Jake Crane, but the Georgia designated hitter was put out at second base when Travis Parrott hit into a fielder's choice. After the Bulldog left fielder swiped second base, Miles Starr was hit by a pitch, as well, setting the stage for a Peisel triple to score a pair of runs. Following a Wyatt lineout, Beckham blasted the second home run of the inning to make the score 5-0. Poythress grounded out to end the outburst.
The third stanza began with a bang, as well, when Danny Hamblin answered with a home run of his own. However, the Hogs had nothing else to show for their turn at the plate except a two-out base hit by Jake Dugger. The Diamond Dogs went in order in the bottom of the inning, registering a groundout, a flyout, and a popup.
Razorback center fielder Jake Dugger went two for four, but he struck out twice and his graphics are really dated.
Arkansas likewise went three up and three down in the top of the fourth frame, after which Starr took first on an error and stole second following a leadoff groundout by Parrott. Peisel flied out to record the second out of the inning, but Wyatt belted a single into center field to plate an unearned run before being caught stealing to conclude the stanza.
Appropriately enough, Brian Walker drew a base on balls in the fifth canto, making him the lone baserunner for either team in the inning. Neither squad had anything to show for the sixth stanza. There was a modicum of excitement to the top of the seventh inning, when Coon was hit by a pitch and Tschepikow put a base hit into left field, but Dodson struck out the next two Arkansas batters to prevent the Razorback left fielder from advancing past second base.
After no Diamond Dogs reached base in the bottom of the inning, the Hogs returned to the plate and Tim Smalling led off the eighth frame with a walk. A Dugger single moved the Arkansas shortstop into scoring position and a Sean Jones groundout advanced both baserunners. Consecutive groundouts by the next two batters ended the threat, however.
An Olson single was the only achievement by the Red and Black in the bottom of the inning, so it all came down to the Razorbacks' final turn at bat in the top of the ninth frame. Coon flied out to start the inning, then a lineout by Tschepikow left the Hogs with only one slim chance remaining. Hope was kept alive by Hamblin's ensuing base on balls, but Walker popped up to conclude the contest.
Razorback catcher Brian Walker went hitless in three at-bats, but he could have hit half a dozen grand slams in a single game and he still wouldn't be half the man that Herschel Walker is.
Quite frankly, I am amazed. Arkansas came into the televised game boasting a dominant 30-10 ledger and the reeling Red and Black beat the Razorbacks handily. Stephen Dodson went nine innings and faced 35 batters, striking out six while walking only three. He surrendered one run on four hits.
The first six batters in the Bulldog lineup (Ryan Peisel, Jonathan Wyatt, Gordon Beckham, Rich Poythress, Matt Olson, and Joey Lewis) together went seven for 24 and batted in half a dozen runs. By contrast, the top six batters in the Arkansas order (Jake Dugger, Sean Jones, Logan Forsythe, Jeff Nutt, Casey Coon, and Ben Tschepikow) collectively were three for 23, with nary an R.B.I. between them.
All year long, the Diamond Dogs' glaring weaknesses have been breakdowns on the mound and men left on the basepaths; on Friday night, Georgia's starting pitcher got the complete game victory and the Red and Black scored six runs on seven hits despite not drawing so much as a single walk.
This was exactly the game the Classic City Canines needed. Now the Red and Black must prove that tonight's victory was a turning point instead of a fluky aberration. Georgia again hosts Arkansas at Foley Field at 2:00 on Saturday afternoon.