South Carolina 14, Georgia 13

The final outing of the Diamond Dogs' disappointing 2007 season began with a Ryan Peisel flyout to lead off the top of the first frame. Three straight singles followed from Jonathan Wyatt, Gordon Beckham, and Rich Poythress to load the bases for Matt Olson, who hit into the fielder's choice that cut down the Red and Black first baseman on his way to second but brought the Georgia center fielder around to score.

Matt Robbins walked on four straight pitches to put three men aboard for Travis Parrott and the Bulldog left fielder responded by dropping a double into right center field to bring home a trio of runs. Although Jake Crane grounded out to short, the Classic City Canines had opened the contest by scoring four runs on four hits.

See? I told you she was good luck!

Trevor Holder took the mound in the home half of the initial inning and proceeded to coax a flyout from Travis Jones. Although a fielding error enabled James Darnell to reach base, both Justin Smoak and Phil Disher struck out to strand the South Carolina third baseman.

The Diamond Dogs went in order in the top of the second stanza and Trent Kline drew a leadoff walk to start the bottom of the canto. After Harley Lail went down swinging, Andrew Crisp recorded the first South Carolina hit of the afternoon by putting the first pitch he saw into left field for a single. Steven Reinhold also swung at the first ball thrown his way, popping up to give the home team two outs to match its two baserunners.

Once Reese Havens struck out to leave the Gamecock catcher in scoring position, the Big Chickens' starting pitcher, Blake Cooper, returned to the hill and induced Beckham to fly out at the outset of the third canto. Poythress put Cooper's next pitch into left center field for a base hit and Olson drew the walk that moved the Georgia first baseman into scoring position.

Each of the four pitches thrown Robbins's way were called balls, so the bases once again were loaded when Parrott came to the plate and the Red and Black left fielder once again drove in a trio of runs with a double. As the Classic City Canines now held a 7-0 lead in runs and a 6-1 advantage in hits, the Palmetto State Poultry opted to switch pitchers, sending in Jeff Jeffords to relieve Cooper, who had surrendered two hits and six R.B.I. to the seventh hitter in the Georgia lineup.

Hey, when you find something that works, you stick with it.

Jeffords threw nothing but strikes to Crane, who went down swinging before Miles Starr popped up to end the inning. The Gamecocks went three up and three down in the home half of the frame and the Diamond Dogs did likewise in the visitors' half of the fourth canto.

Disher doubled to left field to get the bottom of the stanza underway, but when Kline followed the South Carolina designated hitter's lead and swung at the first pitch he saw, the result was a popup. Lail likewise went after the first ball thrown his way, producing a base hit to advance Disher to third.

Crisp hit into the fielder's choice that put the Gamecock left fielder out at second base but plated Disher to get the Big Chickens on the board. Reinhold struck out looking in the ensuing at-bat, leaving the Palmetto State Poultry's deficit at 7-1. The Red and Black did nothing to change that margin in the top of the fifth frame, as no Bulldog reached base in the inning.

South Carolina set about narrowing the gap in the home half of the stanza, commencing with Havens's leadoff walk. Jones's subsequent single moved the Gamecock shortstop to second base and a Darnell flyout put runners at the corners. After Smoak turned the first pitch he saw into a popup, Disher worked the count full before dropping a single into center field to plate Havens.

Uh-oh . . . they could be mounting a comeback. Let's go with another one, just to be on the safe side.

Kline's ensuing popup stranded Jones at third, but the Palmetto State Poultry now trailed the Diamond Dogs by margins of 7-2 in runs and 6-5 in hits. Rather than rest on their laurels, the Red and Black set about answering the challenge to their lead in the top of the sixth stanza. Parrott led off with a single and Crane put the first pitch he saw into play for a base hit of his own.

A third straight single from Starr loaded the bases for Peisel, who proceeded to tack on an additional base hit and thereby bring the Georgia left fielder home. Wyatt walked to plate Crane, extending the Classic City Canines' advantage to 9-2 in runs and 10-5 in hits. Beckham then belted a base hit to left field, scoring two more runs.

Amazingly, Jeffords remained in the game to face Poythress, who obligingly swung at strike three. Wynn Pelzer was then called upon to pitch to Olson and the Georgia right fielder registered the sixth Bulldog hit of the inning, smacking a single into left field to load the bases for Robbins.

After a wild pitch allowed Wyatt to score, the Red and Black designated hitter drew a walk, so Parrott yet again strode to the plate with three of his teammates on the basepaths. This time, though, the Diamond Dog left fielder hit into a fielder's choice, as Beckham was thrown out at home.

When things are going this well, really, why rock the boat?

Pelzer then plunked Crane with his first pitch to the Georgia catcher, forcing home yet another run. Starr thereafter went down swinging to conclude a six-hit, six-run sixth inning for the visiting squad.

Despite facing a daunting deficit, the Palmetto State Poultry were not wholly without an answer for the Diamond Dogs' outburst, as Lail led off the home half of the frame with a base hit to center field and Crisp put a two-run shot out to left field, narrowing the gap to 13-4. The next three Gamecocks all recorded outs to prevent South Carolina from drawing any nearer on the scoreboard, though.

Peisel led off the top of the seventh canto with a single, tallying the Classic City Canines' 13th hit to go with their 13 runs. This did not prove lucky for the Georgia third baseman, however, as Wyatt hit into the fielder's choice that put Peisel out at second. After Beckham drew a base on balls, Poythress grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Alex McRee was sent to the hill in the bottom of the frame to relieve Holder, who had gone up against 28 batters, recorded seven strikeouts to offset the seven hits he had surrendered, and given up four earned runs. After persuading Darnell to fly out, the Georgia reliever walked Smoak on four straight pitches and gave up a first-pitch double to Disher. Kyle Enders flied out to plate a run, but Lail's subsequent foulout kept the Big Chickens from cutting any deeper into the visitors' 13-5 lead.

You dance with the one who brought you.

Blake Cannady led off the top of the eighth stanza with a strikeout, then, either in preparation for a subsequent substitution or in an act of hubris comparable to the Ali shuffle, closer Joshua Fields was sent into the batter's box to pinch hit for the designated hitter. Fields swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded out, but Parrott fared better with his attempt to put the first ball hurled his way into play, producing his third double of the contest.

Joey Lewis grounded out to leave his productive teammate at second base and Iain Sebastian began the bottom of the canto by giving up a double to Crisp, who took third base on a throwing error. Cheyne Hurst followed that up with a run-scoring single and took second base on a fielding error.

Robbie Grinestaff moved the South Carolina right fielder over to third with a single of his own. When Jones walked to load the bases with no one out, what had been a laugher turned suddenly serious. The Classic City Canines had committed a trio of miscues, the visitors now held a narrow 14-11 edge in hits, and the Diamond Dogs' 13-6 lead in runs now was very much imperiled.

Georgia turned to Ryan Woolley, who walked Darnell on four straight pitches to bring Hurst home. That brought Justin Earls to the mound and the latest Bulldog reliever surrendered three consecutive doubles to Smoak, Disher, and Enders. This tied the hitting at 14 apiece and, much more ominously, cut the visitors' lead to 13-12.

O.K., maybe the effect of a photograph of Kristin Davis on the outcome of a Georgia baseball game is negligible, but just imagine how ugly this postgame report would be without her.

Lail put down a sacrifice bunt and reached base on a muffed throw by Peisel. The fourth Georgia error of the contest allowed Enders to score the unearned run that tied the game. Fields finally came out to the mound and the second pitch he threw produced a fly ball from Crisp to Cannady for the first out of an inning in which the home team already had scored eight runs.

Lail stole second base, enabling Hurst's ensuing double to left center field to score the unearned run that gave South Carolina a 14-13 lead in runs and a 15-14 lead in hits. Hurst was picked off to record the elusive second out of the frame and, after Grinestaff drew a base on balls, Jones was retired to conclude a disastrous seven-hit, nine-run, three-error inning.

Harris Honeycutt was sent to the hill in the top of the ninth canto with the astounding ability to collect a save in a game in which his team had been down 13-2 at the midpoint of the sixth stanza. Honeycutt did his job without unnecessary theatrics, striking out Luke Stewart, Peisel, and Wyatt in succession to conclude the Gamecocks' successful comeback and render the home half of the inning superfluous.

It was the perfect ending to a dismal season. For five and a half frames, the Diamond Dogs demonstrated how good a team they could have been, but, for the final three innings, they reminded us just how awfully the Classic City Canines have performed in practice. The Red and Black had the game firmly in their control, yet a lapse of offensive production, a surfeit of untimely errors, and a fatally flawed bullpen produced yet another collapse to conclude a campaign that consisted of one such infuriating setback after another.

Go 'Dawgs!

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