Arizona 9, Georgia 8

In the Diamond Dogs' defense, Arizona is the No. 1 team in the nation.

That, though, didn't make Sunday's one-run loss to the Wildcats any less excruciating. The Red and Black began the baseball season with an impressive win on Friday but followed that up with a loss on Saturday that recalled some of the most deflating tendencies of the 2007 team. Regrettably, the series-settling Sunday showdown underscored several of Saturday's shortcomings and was reminiscent of the sorts of late-inning meltdowns that defined last year's Diamond Dogs.

They even made a movie about the 2007 Georgia bullpen.

The rubber match began with Nathan Moreau on the mound and the Georgia junior acquitted himself well, throwing nothing but strikes to Hunter Pace and catching Jon Gaston stealing after giving up a first-pitch bunt single to the Arizona right fielder. C.J. Ziegler flied out to conclude a scoreless first frame for the visiting team. No Bulldog reached base in the bottom of the inning.

Arizona had only a Brad Glenn walk on a payoff pitch to show for its efforts in the top of the second stanza, but Rich Poythress knocked a double down the left field line to lead off the home half of the inning. Matt Olson put the first pitch he saw into play on a bunt attempt that produced an out but failed to advance the runner, so it fell to Joshua Fields to move the Red and Black first baseman to third on a groundout. There Poythress remained when Bryce Massanari struck out after working the count full.

Pace put down a two-out bunt single to generate the only Wildcat hit of the third inning, but Gaston fouled out on the very next pitch to bring the Classic City Canines back up to bat. The action in the bottom of the frame began with a Ziegler fielding error to put Matt Cerione on first base. Lyle Allen sent the first pitch he saw up the middle for a base hit and Michael Demperio advanced both baserunners on a sacrifice bunt.

Ryan Peisel became the third straight Diamond Dog to put the first ball thrown his way into play, registering another single up the middle to plate a pair of runs and taking second base on the throw. Gordon Beckham flied out in the next at-bat and the Georgia third baseman was thrown out en route to his accustomed position on the field, but the home team had claimed a 2-0 lead.

"Looking good!"

The Wildcats went quietly in the top of the fourth frame and the home team appeared inclined to pick up where the squad had left off when the bottom of the inning began with a Poythress walk and an Olson single. A Fields strikeout, a Massanari flyout, and a Cerione groundout later, though, all the Red and Black had to show for their efforts were a pair of runners stranded at the corners.

After no member of either squad reached base in the fifth canto, Dwight Childs tried to give the visitors some spark by leading off the sixth stanza with a single up the middle. Pace's sacrifice bunt advanced the runner, then, after Gaston flied out, Ziegler was plunked to put the tying run on first base. Dillon Baird took Moreau to a full count but the Arizona third baseman grounded out to squelch the excitement.

Georgia took advantage of the opportunity to extend its briefly imperiled lead in the home half of the inning. Beckham drew a walk and stole second. Poythress put a single into right field to move the Bulldog shortstop to third. Olson grounded out to advance Poythress and score Beckham. A fielding error put Fields aboard and a Wildcat pitching change produced a Massanari lineout. Cerione received a base on balls and a wild pitch brought Poythress home. By the time Allen flied out to end the frame, the Red and Black had extended their lead to 4-0.

Things were looking good for the home team, as they say, but not for long. Moreau was lifted after six innings' worth of work, during which the Georgia starter had faced 22 batters, issued one walk, surrendered three hits, and allowed no runs, earned or otherwise. Ryan Woolley was brought in to pitch the top of the seventh stanza and he began by striking out Glenn. It was all downhill from there.

By "all downhill from there," I mean "like McLean Stevenson's career after he left 'M*A*S*H.'"

T.J. Steele walked and took second base on a wild pitch. A Colt Sedbrook single moved the Wildcat center fielder to third. Robert Abel walked to load the bases and end Woolley's short-lived stay on the mound after just 21 pitches. On came Stephen Ochs to face Oliver Padre, who gazed at strike three to record the second out of the inning and give renewed hope to the Red and Black faithful.

This hope was dashed when Mike Weldon belted a base hit to left field, scoring Steele and Sedbrook. After Ochs walked Gaston to reload the bases, David Perno brought in Stephen Brock to record the last out of the interminable inning. Brock instead conceded the bases-clearing double to Ziegler that allowed Arizona to build a 5-4 lead before Baird popped up to bring the home team back up to bat.

Beckham and Poythress each notched a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Olson flied out to strand both baserunners. Although Glenn flied out to open the eighth canto, the Wildcats were relentless, as Steele singled to short on an 0-2 pitch and a subsequent fielding error allowed Sedbrook to reach base and Steele to score an unearned run.

When Abel knocked a base hit to center field, Brock was pulled and the hurling responsibilities devolved upon Will Harvil. The latest representative of the Diamond Dogs' questionable bullpen induced Daniel Butler to foul out before surrendering a three-run shot over the right field wall to Diallo Fon. The Red and Black threatened to let matters get even further out of hand---Gaston was hit by a pitch, stole second, and took third on a throwing error before being tagged out at home---but the Classic City Canines' circumstances were quite bad enough already, as a 4-0 lead had dissolved into a 9-4 deficit in the space of just an inning and a half.

At Foley Field on Sunday afternoon, things turned sour for the Diamond Dogs quicker than they did for David Fisher on that episode of "Six Feet Under" where he got carjacked. (O.K., that was a bit of a stretch, but I needed a cultural reference more recent than 1979.)

Georgia tried to make some noise in the bottom of the frame, as three Bulldogs put the first pitch they saw into play, producing a pair of baserunners when Fields reached first on a throwing error and Allen singled up the middle. Nevertheless, a Demperio flyout stranded runners at the corners, marking the third straight inning in which the Red and Black left two men on base.

Fortunately, Arizona's efforts to build on its lead in the top of the ninth stanza came to naught, although base hits by Baird and Steele with one and two outs, respectively, presented Sedbrook with the opportunity to tack on additional runs. The Wildcat second baseman grounded out instead.

There was still some fight left in the Diamond Dogs, though. Peisel led off the bottom of the final inning by putting the first pitch to cross his path out in left center field to cut into the visitors' lead. Beckham followed that up with a base hit and Poythress homered to make the score 9-7. Amid various Arizona pitching changes, the next three Red and Black batters all worked the count full, but, whereas Fields drew a base on balls, Olson and Massanari both recorded strikeouts.

Joey Lewis pinch hit for Cerione and he registered the base hit that scored Fields and made it a one-run ballgame. Allen stepped into the batter's box representing the potential winning run, but he managed only to fly out to end the game.

Like the writers' strike, Sunday's Georgia-Arizona game was maddening and interminable. Unlike the writers' strike, Sunday's Georgia-Arizona game didn't culminate in Tina Fey hosting "Saturday Night Live." (All right, I admit it; the desire to make a contemporary pop culture reference after so many '70s allusions got the better of me, particularly since Doug so effortlessly beat me to the punch. Mea culpa.)

This game featured many of the attributes that made the 2007 baseball season so infuriating in Bulldog Nation. Georgia out-hit the opposition (12-11) and Arizona was charged with more errors (3-2), but the Red and Black failed to gain the upper hand in the only category that matters: runs.

Solid starting pitching went to waste when the bullpen gave up eight hits, three walks, and five earned runs in three innings. The leadoff hitter (Michael Demperio) and the designated hitter (Joshua Fields) between them went hitless in eight combined at-bats, striking out twice while drawing one walk and batting in no runs.

These breakdowns, coupled with a pair of ill-timed errors, caused the Classic City Canines to squander the fine efforts of the second, third, and fourth batters in the Red and Black lineup, Ryan Peisel (2 for 5, 1 run, 3 R.B.I.), Gordon Beckham (2 for 4, 1 walk, 2 runs), and Rich Poythress (4 for 4, 1 walk, 2 runs, 2 R.B.I.).

I keep telling myself that Arizona is the No. 1 team in the nation. I keep thinking, though, that I have seen these selfsame problems rear their ugly heads before . . . and I am not anxious to see them emerge again to demoralize the Diamond Dogs and send them into the sort of tailspin into which they spiraled inexorably downward a year ago.

Go 'Dawgs!

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