Oregon State 5, Georgia 4

The Diamond Dogs began their 2008 slate with a grueling run through tough teams from the Pac-10 and the National League, but they entered Sunday afternoon with a chance to claim a series victory over the two-time defending national champions. They fell short of achieving their objective . . . but only slightly, maddeningly so, as Jake recounted in excruciating detail.

Greg Peavey was on the hill for the host squad in the top of the first frame and he performed effectively against three of the four batters he faced, striking out the Red and Black's leadoff and cleanup hitters while coaxing a flyout from Michael Demperio. Unfortunately for the Oregon State starter, Georgia's third hitter, Gordon Beckham, drove a home run to left field to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.

The visitors' advantage did not last long. In the bottom of the inning, Nathan Moreau walked Joey Wong, allowed a bunt single to Garrett Nash, and walked Jason Ogata before inducing Daniel Robertson to ground into the double play that scored the Beaver shortstop. Jordan Lennerton popped up to end the home team's turn at bat, but O.S.U. had succeeded in evening the score.

The Diamond Dogs failed to produce a baserunner in the first half of the second stanza and the Beavers had only a base hit by Drew George to show for their efforts in the bottom of the canto. Both teams went three up and three down in the third inning.

That was the second-most useless third I've ever seen.

Georgia went back on the offensive in the top of the fourth frame. Demperio led off with a base hit to left field, then Beckham belted his second home run in as many at-bats, going long to center field to tack on two more runs. Rich Poythress followed that up with a double and, after Joey Lewis grounded out, the Bulldog first baseman made it as far as third on a Matt Olson flyout. Although Bryce Massanari popped up to strand Poythress, the Classic City Canines had opened up a 3-1 lead.

The home half of the inning was not without its dramatics, but, despite the fact that Lennerton dropped a one-out single into center field and Rob Folsom subsequently drew a base on balls, the next two Beaver batters registered outs to strand two baserunners. The fifth inning featured a Matt Cerione double that turned into an out when the Georgia center fielder tried to turn it into a triple, but, otherwise, no player for either squad made it safely to first base in the course of the canto.

The sixth inning began with a Demperio strikeout and a Beckham groundout, but, before Lewis popped up to conclude the proceedings, Poythress sent a solo shot out in left field to extend the Classic City Canines' lead. Oregon State, however, had something to say about that in the bottom of the frame, as Ogata led off with a home run to make it a 4-2 game.

Robertson thereafter chalked up a base hit and a Lennerton sacrifice advanced him into scoring position. Moreau was yanked at that point after having surrendered five hits, three walks, and two earned runs to the 23 batters he had faced. Dean Weaver took over the hurling duties and a passed ball allowed Robertson to take third base before the Georgia reliever persuaded John Wallace to pop up and struck out George.

As an American baseball fan, I am contractually obligated to make this reference immediately prior to a strikeout by a player named Casey.

A Massanari double went for naught in the top of the seventh canto, as the other three Bulldog batters managed only outs, and the O.S.U. assault resumed in the home half of the inning. After being plunked, Koa Kahalehoe stole second base. Following a Brett Casey strikeout, Wong doubled to left field to score the Beaver center fielder. A Nash strikeout came next, but Ogata brought the Oregon State shortstop home with a single to right field. By the time Robertson struck out swinging, the contest was tied.

Mark Grbavac was brought in to pitch the top of the eighth frame and he struck out the first two Bulldog batters he faced before surrendering a single to Beckham. Poythress proceeded to ground out to end the visitors' turn at the plate and bring the Beavers back up to bat. The bottom of the inning began innocuously enough with a Lennerton strikeout, but the wheels then began to come off.

Weaver walked Wallace and conceded the base hit to George that moved the O.S.U. designated hitter to second base. Kahalehoe's ensuing groundout advanced both baserunners, but, with two outs away in the inning, the Diamond Dogs' prospects for getting out of the frame unscathed appeared good . . . until a wild pitch brought Wallace home, plating the go-ahead run.

After Weaver walked Ryan Ortiz, Joshua Fields came on in relief and, despite allowing the Beaver catcher to swipe second base, he convinced Wong to swing at strike three to give the Diamond Dogs their final shot. The visitors went quietly in the top of the ninth stanza, in which Lewis and Olson struck out and Massanari grounded out to put the loss officially on the books.

I know that's harsh, but we have to tell it like it is.

Setbacks like this are hard to stomach. The Diamond Dogs held a 4-1 lead at the halfway point of the sixth inning, but the Red and Black were outscored 4-0 in the final three frames. Each team tallied eight hits and the Classic City Canines left only three men on base, in comparison to the Beavers' eight. Two of the Bulldogs who were left on base came in the last three innings, though.

The first two hitters in the Georgia lineup accomplished little, as Ryan Peisel and Michael Demperio combined to go one for eight with no R.B.I. and five strikeouts, but the next two hitters in the Georgia lineup ably took up the slack: Gordon Beckham and Rich Poythress between them were five for eight with four R.B.I. and one strikeout. Even Dean Weaver, who proved to be the weak link in the line of pitchers, recorded five strikeouts while allowing only three hits.

The 2008 Diamond Dogs aren't the 2007 Diamond Dogs. The caliber of the competition faced by this year's Red and Black squad must be taken into account, which makes losses by one or two runs understandable, if not altogether forgivable.

That this 2-4 team is but a few breaks away from being a 5-1 team is both encouraging and infuriating. In the six games remaining before the Classic City Canines commence conference play, we will find out whether Georgia's first four losses are indicative of the strength of the Red and Black's schedule or the persistence of lingering problems from last season.

Go 'Dawgs!

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