David Perno's Diamond Dogs began their 2008 season on the right note, but beating the No. 1-ranked Arizona Wildcats twice in a row proved to be too tall an order for the Red and Black on Saturday, although the Classic City Canines kept the contest competitive for as long as they could.
Stephen Dodson drew the starting assignment for the home team and he fared well at the outset of the initial inning, inducing the first two batters he faced to fly out to left field. The Georgia pitcher ran into some trouble when C.J. Ziegler put one out to right field and Dillon Baird knocked a single to center field, but Dodson picked off the Arizona third baseman at first to hold the Wildcats to a 1-0 lead in a game in which the visitors would never trail.
After Dillon Baird went two for three on Saturday and scored two runs, he credited much of his success to the emotional support of his girlfriend, Brenda Walsh, who previously had helped him through his battle with alcoholism and his efforts to cope with his father's arrest.
The home half of the first frame began auspiciously enough with a Michael Demperio base hit to center field. The Georgia second baseman stole second and, following a Ryan Peisel strikeout, he took third base on a Gordon Beckham single. There Demperio remained, stranded 90 feet from scoring the tying run, when Rich Poythress went down swinging and Matt Olson flied out to left field. Two Bulldogs were left on base, ominously echoing a familiar refrain from 2007 which was to be repeated regularly throughout Saturday's outing.
The second stanza, though scoreless, was not without its dramatics, as Dodson plunked T.J. Steele and the Arizona center fielder advanced to third on a base hit by Robert Abel. The Wildcat shortstop stole second base to put a pair of runners in scoring position with two out, but Daniel Butler flied out to end the inning. Likewise, in the bottom of the canto, Joey Lewis punched a single into left field, but he advanced no farther, as Matt Cerione and Adam Fuller each watched a called third strike sail by him.
After the visitors went three up and three down in the top of the third inning, the Diamond Dogs at long last got on the board. Demperio and Peisel both struck out swinging to begin the proceedings, but Beckham thereafter parked a pitch on the far side of the center field wall to tie the game at one run apiece. A subsequent Poythress single went for naught when Olson grounded out to second base.
The deadlock did not last long, as a leadoff home run by Baird gave Arizona a 2-1 advantage to start the fourth frame. Brad Glenn thereafter drew a walk, but the Wildcat designated hitter was caught stealing and the next two visiting batsmen went quietly. Unfortunately, so did all three of the Diamond Dogs who stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the inning.
Brad Glenn's Saturday stat line included a walk and an R.B.I., but that paled in comparison to his previous achievements, which included being the first American to orbit the earth.
Neither team collected a hit in the fifth stanza, although the Red and Black were not without their baserunners. An error and a wild pitch took Fuller as far as third base and Demperio drew a base on balls to put runners at the corners with no outs. The Diamond Dogs squandered the opportunity presented them, though, as both Peisel and Beckham flied out and the Georgia left fielder was tagged out at third after leaving too soon.
The sixth canto followed a similar pattern, as both teams went hitless, but, while no Wildcat made it as far as first base, the Classic City Canines generated some fireworks, aided by an Arizona miscue. Poythress opened the proceedings with a walk to get the bottom of the inning underway, and, although Olson hit into the fielder's choice which cut down the Georgia first baseman at second base, the Bulldog right fielder made up for it by moving over to third base on an unsuccessful pickoff attempt after the visiting hurler was charged with an error.
An Arizona pitching change produced an additional Red and Black baserunner when Lewis drew a base on balls, but the other two batters faced by Wildcat reliever Eric Berger went down swinging to strand two and end the threat.
Dodson was sent to the showers following a six-inning, four-hit performance during which he struck out four, walked one, and surrendered a pair of earned runs while facing 22 opposing batters. On came Nick Montgomery, who started the seventh frame by retiring the first two hitters sent to face him. The Georgia reliever proceeded to walk Colt Sedbrook (who then stole second) and walk Abel (who then stole second while Sedbrook stole third) before striking out Butler.
Arizona second baseman Colt Sedbrook was held without a hit, a run, or an R.B.I. on Saturday. On the plus side, after the game, Terri sent him to pick up a bail-jumper with Howie and Jody.
The home half of the inning featured a maddening pattern by which the Diamond Dogs alternated between registering outs and recording base hits. This left Georgia once more in the accustomed position of leaving runners at the corners when the latest Arizona pitcher, Jason Stoffel, persuaded Poythress to fly out to end the inning.
The Red and Black changed pitchers to start the eighth canto, sending Alex McRee to the mound in what proved to be an ill-fated move. Following a Hunter Pace groundout, Jon Gaston singled to center field. It appeared as though this hit would turn out to be harmless when Ziegler struck out swinging. McRee then struck Baird, putting the Wildcat third baseman aboard and moving the Arizona right fielder to second.
A Glenn single scored Gaston and a three-run shot by Steele broke the game open. Although Sedbrook stared at strike three, the visitors had completed a three-hit, four-run inning that gave them a 6-1 lead. The Diamond Dogs did nothing to ameliorate this situation in the bottom of the eighth frame, when the Classic City Canines went in order.
Arizona added to its advantage in the top of the last scheduled stanza, in which Jason Leaver issued a free pass to Mike Weldon, who stole second and took third on a wild pitch before being brought home by a Gaston double. Georgia thus found itself in a 7-1 hole when the bottom of the ninth inning began.
Wildcat right fielder Jon Gaston went two for five with an R.B.I. yesterday, but that still didn't help him win Belle's affections away from the Beast.
A leadoff single by Bryce Massanari was canceled out by Lyle Allen, who hit into a double play, and, although a base on balls drawn by Demperio kept the faintest flicker of hope alive, this was extinguished when Peisel swung at strike three to conclude the contest.
The Red and Black benefited from a solid start by Dodson, but, despite playing errorless baseball and matching the Wildcats with eight hits apiece, the Classic City Canines could not capitalize on their opportunities, stranding ten men on the basepaths and enduring more innings in which multiple runners remained on base (3) than they experienced those in which no Bulldogs were left on base (2).
Arizona hardly hit the ball at a blistering pace, as the first three hitters in the Wildcats' lineup (Hunter Pace, Jon Gaston, and C.J. Ziegler) combined to go three for 15 at the plate with no walks, two runs batted in, and five strikeouts. Nevertheless, the visitors were far more consistent in the batter's box than their hosts, as five of the first six hitters in the Arizona lineup batted in at least one run.
Solid performances by Michael Demperio (two for three with a pair of walks) and Gordon Beckham (three for four with an R.B.I.) went to waste, as Ryan Peisel, Matt Olson, Joshua Fields, and Matt Cerione collectively registered no hits in a combined 15 at-bats, striking out nine times between them.
There is an old saying in sports that things are never as good as they seem and things are never as bad as they seem. The first two games of the Georgia baseball season, much like the first two games of the Georgia football season, have represented, in succession, a stark and positive break with the prior year's setbacks and a disturbing reversion to what previously had been the mean. Still, given the difficulty of the Diamond Dogs' early schedule, it is tough to get too dejected over a .500 record to start the season. (Whether I re-evaluate my assessment of the weekend's baseball action after I get the opportunity to analyze Sunday's game remains to be seen.)