After splitting a two-game set with Kennesaw State during the week, the Diamond Dogs were off to Starkville to resume conference play against Mississippi State. Friday night's result was, to put it mildly, not to the Red and Black's liking.
Ryan Peisel got the visitors' half of the first inning underway by drawing a leadoff walk and Michael Demperio moved him over to second with a sacrifice bunt. Gordon Beckham, whose hot streak at the plate cooled during the series with the Owls, went down swinging to record the second out of the frame and, after Rich Poythress drew a base on balls to put two men aboard, Matt Olson stared at a called third strike.
Trevor Holder took the mound in the bottom of the canto and retired the side on a Grant Hogue strikeout, a Ryan Collins groundout, and a Jason Nappi flyout, throwing one called ball in the process. In the top of the second stanza, Joey Lewis followed Peisel's lead and began the inning with a walk, drawing a base on balls on a payoff pitch. Bryce Massanari likewise worked the count full and walked, once more giving the Red and Black a pair of baserunners.
Lyle Allen turned the first pitch thrown his way into a sacrifice bunt to move his teammates into scoring position and Adam Fuller drew a walk to load the bases. This also carried the consequence of forcing Tyler Whitney from the mound after the Mississippi State starter had faced nine batters and surrendered five bases on balls. Michael Busby came on in his stead and Peisel turned his first pitch into an R.B.I. single.
I hope you enjoyed the moment, because it's pretty much all downhill from here.
Unfortunately, Demperio struck out and Beckham grounded out to strand three baserunners and prevent the big inning that might have been from yielding anything beyond a 1-0 lead for the Classic City Canines. Holder obtained a swift groundout from Cody Freeman in the home half of the frame and, although he subsequently surrendered a walk to Connor Powers, he immediately thereafter persuaded Tyler Moore to ground into a double play.
For a change of pace, the Georgia leadoff hitter in the top of the stanza was not issued a walk; instead, Poythress grounded out to start the third canto and Olson, who fouled off half a dozen pitches to work the count full, drew a base on balls. The effect of this was nullified, however, when Lewis turned the first pitch he saw into a double-play ball.
In the bottom of the third frame, Mississippi State took advantage of the guests' failure to capitalize upon the available opportunities. Russ Sneed opened the proceedings with a leadoff double and the M.S.U. shortstop advanced to third when Ryan Duffy fouled out to left field. A base hit down the line by Jet Butler plated Sneed to tie the game.
After Hogue hit into the fielder's choice that put Butler out at second base, Collins went down swinging to conclude the canto. In the top of the ensuing inning, the first Georgia batter of the stanza drew a leadoff walk for the third time in four frames; in this particular instance, it was Massanari, who stole second before Allen struck out and Fuller was hit by a pitch.
"We're walkin' here!"
Peisel put a single into right field and advanced to second while Fuller made his way to third, but Massanari was out at home to turn the would-be second Red and Black run of the game into the second Georgia out of the inning. Demperio flied out to right field to leave the go-ahead run stranded 90 feet from home plate.
Nappi led off the home half of the canto with a base hit and Freeman's sacrifice bunt moved him over to second. After Powers struck out looking, the Mississippi State left fielder advanced to third on a wild pitch and Moore walked. Sneed then struck out to strand both baserunners. Beckham was plunked to begin the fifth frame and, after Poythress struck out, the Georgia shortstop scored on an Olson triple to make it 2-1. The next two Classic City Canines struck out to end the inning.
After the first two M.S.U. batters in the bottom of the canto recorded outs, Hogue reached on a Peisel throwing error and stole second. A Collins single plated an unearned run to tie the game anew before the Mississippi State right fielder was caught stealing. The Red and Black were retired in order in the top of the sixth stanza on a trio of groundouts.
Another groundout followed when Nappi led off the home half of the inning, but Freeman followed that up with a ground-rule double. The next two M.S.U. batters registered outs to strand the go-ahead run in scoring position and the visitors went three up and three down in the top of the seventh canto.
Don Imus, who was calling Friday night's baseball game, was grateful for the fact that the Mississippi State left fielder failed to score a run, because he didn't want to risk using the phrase "Nappi headed home" during basketball tournament time.
Dean Weaver took over the pitching duties for the Diamond Dogs in the bottom of the frame. In six innings' worth of work, Holder had crossed paths with 24 batters, surrendering five hits (two of which were doubles) and two walks while tallying no strikeouts, yet conceding only one earned run. Weaver retired Sneed and Duffy in succession before allowing a first-pitch single to Butler and another base hit to Hogue. Collins thereafter went down swinging to squelch the home team's effort to capture a late lead.
Olson and Lewis began the eighth canto with back-to-back strikeouts on a combined six straight pitches. Although Massanari then drew a base on balls, he was caught stealing to end the Classic City Canines' time at the plate. In the bottom of the stanza, Weaver yet again sat down the first two batters he faced before surrendering a single, this time to Powers. Once more, though, this proved harmless, as the Georgia reliever retired the very next batter on three consecutive strikes.
Chad Crosswhite was sent to the mound to pitch the top of the ninth inning for the hometown Bulldogs. He faced three batters, extracting groundouts from each of them in succession. Hoping to continue the contest for at least one more frame, the Red and Black inserted Joshua Fields into the game for the home half of the final scheduled stanza. He responded by coaxing a flyout from Sneed, a strikeout from Duffy, and a first-pitch pop-up from Butler to send the outing to bonus cantos.
The Classic City Canines went quietly in the top of the tenth inning, marking the fifth frame in a row in which the visitors failed to register a hit. The home team suffered from no such dry spell in the bottom of the stanza, in which Hogue led off with a single to right field on a payoff pitch.
This is a pretty good indication that matters have taken a turn for the worse.
The Mississippi State center fielder did what he could to capitalize on the opportunity, swiping second and advancing to third on a Massanari throwing error. Fields then did the unthinkable, throwing the wild pitch that allowed an unearned run---or, heck, a run of any kind or character whatsoever---to cross home plate on his watch. The game thus ended abruptly in a 3-2 M.S.U. victory when the hosts took their first lead of the night.
It is open to debate whether this game was won by the winners or lost by the losers. On the one hand, the victorious Bulldogs out-hit their guests by a 9-3 margin. On the other hand, the defeated Bulldogs committed a pair of errors, each of which led directly to Grant Hogue scoring an unearned run. If those runs are taken off the board, Georgia wins a 2-1 game.
As it was, Ryan Peisel had a solid evening (2 for 4, 1 R.B.I., 1 walk), but the next three batters in the Red and Black lineup (Michael Demperio, Gordon Beckham, and Rich Poythress) collectively went hitless in a dozen combined at-bats, drawing but one walk between them and cumulatively striking out six times. Likewise, designated hitter Joey Lewis was anything but, striking out twice and garnering no hits in three official at-bats.
For the second straight weekend, Georgia lost a one-run conference game in ten innings. This loss was frustrating not only because of the way in which the Classic City Canines' bats went silent, but also because of the lack of late-inning substitutions which might have given the offense some much-needed spark. The same two teams will meet again in the Magnolia State on Saturday, hopefully with more encouraging results.