After suffering a heartbreaking loss on Friday and rebounding to post a solid victory on Saturday, the Diamond Dogs entered Sunday's contest with a chance to win an S.E.C. series for the first time since the middle of March.
Although the first two Georgia batters in the top of the opening inning each recorded outs, Gordon Beckham belted a base hit up the middle. His stay on the basepaths was not long, though, as Rich Poythress hit into the fielder's choice that retired the side.
Dawg Sports good luck charm Kristin Davis had her "game face" on for Sunday's showdown in the Bluegrass State.
The Wildcats had considerably more success against Dean Weaver in the home half of the frame. After Mike Brown popped up, Antone DeJesus was plunked and took second base on a wild pitch. Sawyer Carroll dropped a double into left center field to score the Kentucky center fielder.
Following a Sean Coughlin strikeout, Brian Spear drew a walk and Carroll swiped third base, but the U.K. first baseman was caught trying to steal home and put out to conclude the home team's turn at the plate. The Red and Black answered in the top of the second stanza, which Matt Olson led off with a base hit up the middle.
A Luke Stewart single put runners at the corners, enabling the Georgia right fielder to tie the game when Joey Lewis grounded into a double play. Travis Parrott reached base on a fielding error, but Mike Freeman grounded out to keep the score knotted at 1-1. The Wildcats were sat down in sequence in the bottom of the inning on a flyout, a strikeout, and a groundout.
After Ryan Peisel grounded out to start the third canto, Jonathan Wyatt walked on four straight pitches and Beckham blasted the first pitch he saw out of the park in right center field to give the Classic City Canines a 3-1 lead in runs and a 4-1 advantage in hits. Poythress drew a base on balls in the ensuing at-bat and advanced to second when Olson punched a first-pitch single into right field.
By drawing one walk, collecting one hit, scoring one run, and tallying one R.B.I., Jonathan confirmed that he is the best Wyatt since Wingfoot.
Kentucky starting pitcher Greg Dombrowski caught Stewart looking with a called third strike to record the second out of the inning and he closed the deal by inducing Lewis to ground out and thereby bring the home team back up to bat. Keenan Wiley opened the bottom of the frame with a flyout, but Brown followed with a base hit. DeJesus reached first on a fielder's choice that put the Wildcat right fielder out at second, however, and Carroll concluded the proceedings by flying out to center field.
Parrott led off the fourth frame with a single through the right side. The Red and Black left fielder advanced to second on Freeman's sacrifice bunt and took third on a base hit by Peisel. That was enough to get Dombrowski pulled after allowing seven hits to the 19 batters he had faced, so James Paxton was brought on to pitch to Wyatt, who knocked a single through the left side to give the Diamond Dogs their fourth run on their eighth hit.
Paxton got the quick hook, as Dewayne Oxford was sent to the hill to face Beckham. The latest Wildcat reliever fared considerably better than his predecessor, coaxing a flyout from the Georgia shortstop and persuading Poythress to hit into a fielder's choice. Weaver got off to a rocky start in the bottom of the inning, plunking Coughlin, throwing the wild pitch that enabled the Kentucky catcher to advance to second base, and walking Spear on four pitches.
Matters went from bad to worse when the Bulldog hurler surrendered a double to Tyler Howe on an 0-2 pitch and the bottom fell out when Ryan Wilkes put a three-run shot out to right center field. Although the Diamond Dogs had doubled up the Bat Cats in hits (8-4), the home team now held a 5-4 lead on the visitors from Athens.
Ryan Woolley was called upon to close the barn door following the horse's methodical escape and he allowed an 0-2 pitch to get away from him and strike Matt McKinney. After that, though, Woolley got down to the business of pitching, retiring the next three Kentucky batters on a strikeout, a flyout, and a groundout.
The Classic City Canines had only a Stewart single to show for the top of the fifth stanza, but their Bluegrass State hosts began the home half of the frame with a walk drawn by Carroll on four pitches. Following a Coughlin strikeout, the Wildcat first baseman moved into scoring position on a wild pitch.
Woolley bore down, striking out Spear and convincing Howe to line out to left center field. This got the sixth inning underway, in which Parrott turned an 0-2 pitch into a base hit but was thrown out at second on an unsuccessful steal attempt. Freeman then proceeded to punch a single up the middle, which caused Kentucky to turn to Aaron Lovett as the fourth Wildcat hurler of the afternoon.
The new U.K. pitcher did his job, getting the lineout from Peisel and the groundout from Wyatt that preserved the home team's 5-4 lead in runs in spite of the visitors' 11-4 advantage in hits. Woolley retired the side on five pitches in the bottom of the frame, collecting a first-pitch flyout from Wilkes and a first-pitch groundout from Wiley, with a McKinney flyout on a 2-0 pitch sandwiched in between.
Kentucky reliever Aaron Lovett faced 16 batters, recorded four strikeouts, surrendered neither a walk nor an earned run, and somehow managed to convince Julia Roberts to marry him.
The Diamond Dogs went three up and three down in the top of the seventh stanza, but Brown began the home half of the inning by doubling down the left field line. DeJesus put down a sacrifice bunt to move the Wildcat right fielder over to third. After Carroll was walked intentionally, a wild pitch brought Brown home to give Kentucky six runs on five hits. The U.K. first baseman also made it to third on the play.
Justin Earls was called in from the bullpen at this juncture and the third Georgia pitcher of the afternoon surrendered the sacrifice fly to Coughlin that made the score 7-4 before allowing the Spear solo shot that gave the home team an 8-4 advantage. Mercifully, Howe grounded out to end the onslaught.
After Stewart's flyout at the outset of the eighth inning, Lewis sent a single into left field to give the visiting team a 12-6 lead in hits to match the home team's 8-4 edge in runs. Parrott's subsequent single advanced the Georgia catcher to second and Freeman's follow-up groundout moved him over to third, but he was stranded there when Peisel went down swinging.
Ostensibly not content with their four-run lead, the Wildcats went to work with gusto in the bottom of the inning. Adam McDaniel took over the pitching duties for the Diamond Dogs and the new Red and Black hurler began by giving up a base hit to Wilkes. After McKinney grounded out, the Kentucky shortstop advanced to second on a passed ball. When Wiley went down swinging, it appeared as though McDaniel would have an easy time of it, but circumstances were not as they appeared.
Wilkes swiped third and came home when Brown doubled to right field. The Wildcat right fielder stole third. DeJesus walked and stole second. Carroll was walked intentionally to load the bases for Coughlin, who responded by putting a grand slam out to right field. After Spear punched a base hit into center field, McDaniel was relieved of his duties and replaced by Jason Leaver, who got Howe to hit into the fielder's choice that sent the contest to the final frame.
To their credit, the Classic City Canines endeavored to overcome the nine-run deficit facing them. After Wyatt went down swinging, Beckham singled to right center field and took third when Poythress reached on a fielding error. Olson scored the Georgia shortstop on a sacrifice fly and Stewart moved the Bulldog first baseman over to third with a double. Lewis, however, grounded out to bring the contest to its inevitable conclusion.
In many ways, this disaster of an outing epitomized the Diamond Dogs' sorry season. Despite outhitting the opposition by a 15-10 margin and playing errorless baseball in the field, the Red and Black couldn't get the job done because of breakdowns on the mound and anemia on offense.
The pitcher who started the first inning for Georgia and the pitcher who started the last inning for Georgia gave up five earned runs apiece. Despite solid days at the plate by Gordon Beckham (3 for 5, 2 runs, 2 R.B.I.), Matt Olson (2 for 4, 1 run, 1 R.B.I.), Travis Parrott (3 for 4, 1 run), and Luke Stewart (3 for 5), the Classic City Canines were held scoreless in five frames and had only one inning in which they managed to plate multiple runs.
To this laundry list of shortcomings must be added genuine questions about coaching strategy. It was one thing for David Perno to leave Trevor Holder in the game long past his effectiveness on Friday night; that decision, while costly and questionable, at least could be defended because it came in the first outing of a three-game set and Coach Perno wanted to save some of his pitchers for Saturday's and Sunday's games. Why were Dean Weaver and Adam McDaniel left in the last game of the series so long, though?
Six of the last seven batters Weaver faced reached base, as the Georgia starter gave up a single to Mike Brown, a double to Tyler Howe, and a home run to Ryan Wilkes, in addition to walking Brian Spear, plunking Sean Coughlin, letting Antone DeJesus reach on a fielder's choice, and allowing a baserunner to advance on a wild pitch. He did everything but give up a triple and an extra base on a balk.
What was Weaver still doing on the mound after Coughlin scored in the fourth inning to narrow the visitors' lead to 4-2 with no outs? Likewise, McDaniel surrendered four hits (including a double and a home run), a pair of walks, and three stolen bases, not including the base awarded on a passed ball. Why wasn't he sent to the showers sooner?
In addition to his dubious decisionmaking regarding the timing of pitching switches, Coach Perno committed some gaffes regarding the timing of intentional walks, as well. Sawyer Carroll drew purposeful passes twice. The first time, Sean Coughlin sacrificed home a run. The second time, the Kentucky catcher broke the game wide open with a grand slam. Had the Red and Black pitched to Carroll, is it likely that he would have done more damage than the five R.B.I. Coughlin collected because Georgia pitched around the supposedly greater threat?
Some of the Diamond Dogs' problems are the result of youth and inexperience, but these difficulties are being compounded by coaching decisions that lend themselves strongly to second-guessing. When a team gets blasted by a 13-5 final margin in a game it ought to have won, some of the blame must fall on the coach, whose performance deserves to be subjected to hard looks and tough questions.