While not of the same immediately evident magnitude of The F-Bomb's four-game run through the S.E.C. basketball tournament, yesterday's baseball outing against Arkansas enjoyed disproportionate significance for the Diamond Dogs, who had come back from a nine-run deficit to defeat the Razorbacks on Saturday but who had not won a game on a Sunday since last May and had only emerged victorious from the final contest of a three-game weekend set once since last March.
Having dropped their conference opener on Friday, the Red and Black battled back and maintained the momentum from Saturday's success when claiming a 13-2 victory over the Hogs in Fayetteville. The affair opened auspiciously enough for the visitors, as Ryan Peisel drew a leadoff walk to start the first frame. A bunt single by Michael Demperio advanced the Georgia third baseman to second and Gordon Beckham, who would be named S.E.C. player of the week, sacrificed both baserunners over one more.
After Rich Poythress walked to load the bases, Joey Lewis's sacrifice fly scored Peisel. Demperio tacked on an unearned run when Matt Olson reached on an error and successive bases on balls by Bryce Massanari and Lyle Allen plated Poythress. Matt Cerione lined out to end the inning with the bases loaded, but a trio of runs had come across to give the Classic City Canines an early advantage they would never relinquish.
Nathan Moreau took the mound in the bottom of the first frame and he coaxed a groundout, a strikeout, and a flyout from the first three Razorbacks he saw. While the Diamond Dogs began the second stanza with back-to-back outs, as well, Beckham put a home run over the left field wall to make it 4-0 before Poythress struck out looking to conclude the canto.
The foregoing photograph of Davy Crockett is included in tribute to the Razorbacks' left fielder, who went one for four prior to being made into the famous frontiersman's cap.
Arkansas opened the home half of the inning by producing its first pair of baserunners when Andy Wilkins and Casey Coon registered back-to-back singles, but the Razorback left fielder was put out on the way to second base. A Tim Smalling walk put runners at the corners, but strikeouts by Aaron Murphree and Ryan Cisterna squelched the threat.
An error and a wild pitch took Massanari as far as third base in the third frame, but not before two outs already had been recorded, so, despite an Allen walk, a Cerione lineout prevented the Red and Black from scoring. The Hogs went in order in the bottom of the stanza on three straight strikeouts.
Peisel got the fourth frame underway with a base hit to left field and, after Demperio flied out, Beckham dropped a single into left field, as well. This caused the Arkansas starting pitcher, James Mahler, to get the hook after surrendering four hits and five walks to the first 21 batters he had faced.
Chad Pierce relieved Mahler and proceeded directly to walk Poythress. Lewis reached on the error that scored Peisel and, when Olson knocked a base hit to left field, two more runs crossed home plate. A Massanari double plated two more before an Allen groundout and a Cerione strikeout limited the damage to five runs on four hits.
Arkansas reliever Chad Pierce faced six batters, allowed two hits and a walk, and gave up three runs, but, in his defense, he served as a U.S. Army surgeon during the Korean War, so that would make him, like, in his mid-80s.
The Hogs went three up and three down in the bottom of the fourth canto, as did the Classic City Canines in the top of the fifth inning. No Razorback reached base in the home half of the frame, either, so it fell to Poythress to break the two teams' hitting drought with a single to center field to lead off the sixth stanza. Unfortunately, the next three Bulldog batters recorded outs, so the Georgia first baseman was stranded on the basepaths.
Scott Lyons led off the home half of the sixth inning by drawing a base on balls and Andrew Darr followed that up with the single that sent him as far as third. After Brett Eibner popped up, Logan Forsythe's sacrifice fly scored the Arkansas shortstop and put the Hogs on the board at long last. Wilkins thereafter hit into a fielder's choice to prevent the Razorbacks from drawing any nearer than 9-1, though.
It did not appear that the Diamond Dogs would have an answer for the minuscule dent that had been put in their lead, as the first two Georgia batters in the top of the seventh frame produced a groundout and a strikeout. Thereafter, however, Peisel walked, Demperio and Beckham registered consecutive singles, and the baserunners advanced on the throw to bring home another run before Poythress flied out to conclude the canto.
Moreau was taken from the game at the midpoint of the seventh stanza after encountering 22 batters, striking out eight, and surrendering just three hits, two walks, and one earned run. The hurling responsibilities passed to Dean Weaver, who induced Coon to fly out and Murphree to strike out before allowing Smalling to drop a double into left field. This did no damage, as Thomas Hauskey struck out looking in the next at-bat.
Yeah, the guy was held without a hit, but what do you expect from a Hauskey? Now, the Key to Time . . . there was a key!
After no Classic City Canine reached base in the eighth inning, Arkansas returned to the plate in the home half of the frame. Lyons led off by grounding out, but Darr belted a double into center field and Eibner followed that up with the base hit that scored the Razorback right fielder. Weaver then persuaded Forsythe to ground into the double play that ended the stanza with Georgia still holding a 10-2 lead.
It appeared at the start of the ninth canto that the visitors would do nothing to improve upon their advantage, as Adam Fuller flied out and Cerione grounded out to start the Diamond Dogs' turn at bat. It was then, though, that back-to-back bases on balls were issued to Peisel and Demperio, whereupon Beckham put a three-run shot over the left field wall to make it 13-2.
Mercifully, Poythress thereafter flied out to right field. The bottom of the ninth inning was without drama. Justin Grimm took the hill to close out the game and he retired the side on a Wilkins flyout, a Coon strikeout, and a Murphree groundout.
The Diamond Dogs, who improved to 8-7 overall and 2-1 in conference play, needed this one and they earned it. The pitching was solid throughout the contest, in which the home team recorded just half a dozen hits.
Justin Grimm pitched one inning, faced three batters, recorded one strikeout, and did not allow either a hit or a run. For a guy made out of orange rocks, that ain't bad.
From the leadoff spot, Ryan Peisel went one for three but drew three walks and came around to score four runs. Between them, Michael Demperio and Gordon Beckham were six for ten at the plate and batted in five runs. Apart from Andrew Darr, who took over for hitless leadoff man Chase Leavitt in the sixth inning, no Razorback tallied more than one hit.
I apologize for injecting the political into the midst of the athletic, but the closest analogy for March 16, 2008, that springs to my mind is January 22, 1973, when two newsworthy events occurred: the death of Lyndon Johnson and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. At the time, the greater amount of press coverage went to the passing of the former president, but, in retrospect, the more politically significant event was the High Court's judgment.
So it may prove to be with intercollegiate athletic events between the Universities of Georgia and Arkansas yesterday. While we all hope that the Bulldog basketball program has turned the corner and will enjoy a lengthy run through the N.C.A.A. tournament, it remains a possibility that Dennis's Dogs---who were, after all, a sixth-seeded squad with the league's worst regular-season ledger who won four of their scheduled S.E.C. games before winning four S.E.C. games in the conference tourney---merely enjoyed a brief hot streak that is not indicative of any long-term change in the program's trajectory. This could be the start of something big; as much as we all want to believe otherwise, though, it just as easily could be a fluke or the desperate deed of players who knew their coach's job was in jeopardy.
Following up a solid comeback with a convincing win, though, was huge for the Diamond Dogs, who won their opening series in Southeastern Conference play and ran their record to 5-6 against ranked opponents in 2008. After being outscored 15-2 in the first fourteen innings of play against Arkansas, the Classic City Canines outscored the Hogs 27-3 in the last thirteen frames. Slowly but surely, it is starting to come together for David Perno's team, and we may look back on yesterday's outing as the turning point of a successful season.