Friday, February 22, marked not only the 276th anniversary of the birth of George Washington and the 188th anniversary of the founding of the Phi Kappa Literary Society, but also the start of the 2008 college baseball season. The Diamond Dogs could not be accused of scheduling soft opposition in the wake of their disappointing 2007 campaign, as the Red and Black opened the year by hosting the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats.
The game was available for viewing on GXtra for free, which was pretty cool, since I actually got to watch much of the game from my computer, but, unfortunately, the live in-game statistical updates were unavailable, making my usual batter-by-batter coverage impossible.
That, though, was the only bad news for the Bulldogs on a cold night in the Classic City, as Georgia began the spring in grand fashion with a 9-7 victory over the No. 1 team in the nation. The home team wasted no time in claiming an early lead, scoring four runs in the bottom of the first inning off of the Wildcats' Preston Guilmet.
The Arizona starter was chased from the game after four frames following a shaky start in which he surrendered seven hits, three walks, and eight runs. The error-prone Pac-10 frontrunners did little to help their pitcher, however, as only half of the runs surrendered by Guilmet were earned.
Arizona center fielder T.J. Steele went hitless in five at-bats, striking out four times and stranding two teammates on base. Fortunately, he had Laura Holt to comfort him after his disappointing performance at the plate.
Georgia held a 6-2 lead after three stanzas, but the Cats came back against the Diamond Dogs in the top of the fourth, when Red and Black starter Trevor Holder allowed a trio of runs to cross the plate.
In 2007, the Classic City Canines likely would have folded at that point, allowing a commanding advantage to become precarious before falling altogether; this Bulldog squad, however, showed exceptional resiliency, manufacturing a pair of runs in the fifth inning off of walks by Rich Poythress, Matt Olson, and Joey Lewis, a base-hit bunt by Joshua Fields, and a fielder's choice hit into by Adam Fuller.
The Wildcats' C.J. Ziegler hit a home run off of Justin Earls in the seventh frame, but Fields collected his second hit of the night on a solo shot in the bottom of the inning to reclaim the home team's three-run lead.
Georgia was ahead by a couple of runs when Fields took the mound in the top of the ninth inning. The Bulldog reliever was overly excitable against the first batter he faced, surrendering a leadoff walk, but he calmed down to retire the side on three straight strikeouts.
Arizona left fielder Hunter Pace went one for four in the leadoff spot. Fortunately, he had Dee Dee McCall to comfort him after his disappointing performance at the plate.
Over the course of the evening, Michael Demperio left three men stranded as the Diamond Dogs' leadoff hitter, but the next three batters in the Georgia lineup between them reached base eight times, as Ryan Peisel went three for five with an R.B.I. and a run, Gordon Beckham went two for five with a run, and Poythress drew three bases on balls. Between them, these three hitters left just two of their teammates on base.
This was exactly the sort of game the Diamond Dogs needed to start off their season. The Red and Black scored early and often, never trailing against the top team in the land. Holder gave up just three earned runs and two walks in five innings' worth of work, during which he recorded four strikeouts. Fields retired three of the four batters he faced and the team's confidence, which surely was shaken by last season's debacle, now must be surging.
Even with the late start date, the baseball season is long and there is only so much that can be read into one game, irrespective of the fact that this lone outing came against what purportedly is the best team in the country. Nevertheless, Georgia is off to a 1-0 start. So far, so good.