In their final homestand before beginning a lengthy stretch of road games, the Diamond Dogs hosted longtime rival Clemson at Foley Field on Tuesday night. The Red and Black limped into the contest with a 10-17 overall record and a 3-6 mark in conference play to tangle with the Tigers, who arrived in Athens at 18-9 after having gone 5-4 their A.C.C. outings.
The home team sent Dean Weaver to the mound at the outset of the contest and the Georgia hurler began by giving up a base hit to Brad Chalk. After striking out Taylor Harbin, Weaver was credited with an error on a failed pickoff attempt that allowed the Clemson center fielder to take second base. Marquez Smith thereafter became the second Tiger batter to swing at strike three and an overly eventful first frame came to a close when Ben Paulsen elected to watch, rather than take a whack at, the third strike to come his way.
Following an extended period of offensive ineptitude, the Classic City Canines came to the plate determined to demonstrate their ability to generate a run. Jonathan Wyatt led off with a single and stole second base. Ryan Peisel grounded out to move the Georgia center fielder to third and, although Gordon Beckham was thrown out on his way to first, he was credited with an R.B.I. when Wyatt scored to give the home team a 1-0 lead. Subsequently, Rich Poythress went down swinging to conclude an exciting opening stanza.
Doug Hogan took a called third strike to begin the second inning, but Wilson Boyd muscled a base hit into center field in the next at-bat. This contribution was negated, however, when Tim Morris went down swinging and the Clemson right fielder was caught stealing. The Red and Black went in order in the bottom of the frame on a strikeout, a groundout, and a flyout.
Clemson catcher Doug Hogan scored a run, despite going hitless in two at-bats, which no doubt made his father, Hulk, and his sister, Brooke, proud.
After J.D. Burgess was thrown out at first to lead off the third stanza, the visiting team went about answering the Georgia score when Addison Johnson dropped a double into center field. Chalk's subsequent single scored the Tiger left fielder and the Clemson center fielder set the stage for his team to take the lead by stealing second base. Fortunately, the next two batters popped up and grounded out, respectively, to preserve the tie.
The Diamond Dogs had nothing to show for the bottom of the third inning, as the side was retired in sequence, so Clemson returned to the plate at the start of the fourth frame. A Paulsen groundout was followed by a Hogan walk and, although the Tiger catcher stole second base to put the go-ahead run in scoring position, the next two batters went down swinging, so the score remained unchanged.
A base hit by Poythress produced the lone Bulldog baserunner in the bottom of the stanza and the fifth frame commenced with a pitching change. Weaver hit the showers after striking out seven of the 16 batters he faced and conceding one earned run on four hits in as many innings. Alex McRee took his place on the hill.
Burgess took first base on an error and second base on a sacrifice groundout by Johnson. Chalk then walked and Harbin punched a double into left field to score two runs before McRee convinced Smith to chase strike three and coaxed Paulsen into grounding out to prevent further damage from being done.
Tiger center fielder Brad Chalk was two for four at the plate, drawing a walk, scoring one run, and batting in another. Also, after the game, Banky Edwards used him to trace an outline around the body of a comic book collector who spoke disparagingly of his role as an inker.
In the home half of the inning, it appeared at first that the Classic City Canines intended to do little to dig themselves out of their 3-1 hole, as Luke Stewart struck out swinging and Joey Lewis flied out to center field. However, Matt Cerione got things going in the next at-bat by socking a double into right field. After Mike Freeman was plunked, Wyatt registered the R.B.I. single that closed the gap to a single run. The Georgia center fielder stole second base to put two men in scoring position, but Peisel's strikeout prevented the Red and Black from tying the game or taking the lead.
Hogan drew another base on balls to start the sixth inning and Boyd sacrificed him over to second base. When Alex Burg was walked, as well, Iain Sebastian was brought in to relieve McRee. The Clemson catcher took third base on a Burgess flyout, allowing Johnson's ensuing single to plate another run before Chalk went down swinging.
Beckham led off the bottom of the frame with a popup. Georgia got a man aboard when Poythress was hit by a pitch, but Matt Olson flied out and Stewart popped up to prevent his advancement. After six innings, Clemson had two more hits (6-4), the Tigers had two more runs (4-2), and the Bulldogs had two more errors (2-0).
Smith singled in the top of the seventh, but he alone among Clemson batters made it as far as first, so the home team returned to the plate with the hope of overcoming the visitors' advantage. This they did not do, as a groundout, a flyout, and a strikeout represented the extent of the attainment by the Red and Black.
Had Ernest Lawrence Thayer been writing about the 2007 Georgia baseball team, he could have penned a tragic ballad an inning.
Following Boyd's leadoff flyout in the top of the eighth frame, Burg reached base on a dropped fly ball and advanced to second on a Burgess groundout. Johnson's ensuing groundout brought the Bulldogs back up to bat, but the Red and Black once again lacked any offensive spark, managing only a base hit by Peisel in the bottom of the inning.
Steve Esmonde was sent out to pitch the top of the ninth inning and he induced Chalk to line out before surrendering a double to Harbin. The next two batters popped up and grounded out to end the threat, but the Diamond Dogs still faced the daunting challenge of needing to score three runs before recording three outs in order to win the game.
Olson went down swinging to lead off the bottom of the frame. Stewart put a single into center field to bring the tying run to the plate, but Lewis grounded into the double play that squelched the budding rally and brought the contest to a close. After a promising start, the Classic City Canines were outscored 4-1 in the last eight innings. Jonathan Wyatt at long last broke out of his offensive doldrums, going two for four with a run, an R.B.I., and a pair of stolen bases, but the next eight batters in the lineup (Ryan Peisel, Gordon Beckham, Rich Poythress, Matt Olson, Luke Stewart, Joey Lewis, Matt Cerione, and Mike Freeman) collectively went four for 28 with a single run and a lone R.B.I. Georgia batters struck out seven times without drawing so much as a single base on balls.
Tuesday's tilt with the Tigers was not just the opening round of a two-game set with Georgia's historic rival from Fort Hill; the contest also represented the 28th outing of the Classic City Canines' 56-game schedule. At the halfway point, the Diamond Dogs are well below .500, only intermittently and inconsistently showing signs of improvement, and insistent upon repeating the same mistakes along the way to duplicating the same undesirable outcomes, falling just short of victory in game after game.