After claiming victory over top-ranked Miami in dramatic fashion on Saturday, the Diamond Dogs were back in action on Monday night, this time to face the selfsame Stanford squad that got by Florida State. Once again, the Red and Black saved the best for last, rebounding from an early deficit to claim a 4-3 victory in the end.
Nick Montgomery got the start for Georgia and he began the top of the first frame auspiciously, eliciting a groundout from Cord Phelps and coaxing a flyout from Joey August. After surrendering a single up the middle to Jason Castro, the Bulldog starter extracted a flyout from Brent Milleville.
The bottom of the canto saw Jeffrey Inman on the mound and the Cardinal hurler got the inning underway by walking Ryan Peisel on a payoff pitch. Matt Olson proceeded to work the count full, as well, but the Georgia right fielder struck out as his teammate took off for second and was caught stealing. Gordon Beckham became the third straight Classic City Canine to make it as far as a 3-2 count before flying out to right field.
After the Cardinal went three up and three down in the top of the second stanza, the Red and Black likewise were retired in order in the home half of the frame. Montgomery surrendered a leadoff triple to Zach Jones to start the visitors’ half of the third inning and Jake Schlander made Georgia pay in the next at-bat, grounding out to short to score the first run of the contest.
Stanford catcher Jason Castro went two for three with a home run and a pair of R.B.I. in a losing effort on Monday night. I hope Fidel was proud of him.
Following a Phelps flyout, August dropped a double into right center field and Castro took advantage of the opportunity by belting a two-run shot to right field. By the time Milleville went down swinging, Stanford had taken a 3-0 lead.
The Diamond Dogs attempted to answer in the bottom of the canto, when Lyle Allen drove a one-out double down the left field line and David Thoms moved him over to third with a first-pitch base hit. Unfortunately, Peisel popped up and Olson grounded out in at-bats in which each of them represented the would-be tying run.
The Cardinal got to Montgomery again in the top of the fourth frame, in which Randy Molina led off with a first-pitch single and took second on a wild pitch before Sean Ratliff walked on four straight pitches. That signaled the end of the line for the Georgia starter, who was replaced by Stephen Dodson. The new Bulldog hurler extracted a first-pitch foulout from Toby Gerhart, persuaded Jones to hit into a fielder’s choice, and got Schlander to pop up on a payoff pitch.
Beckham led off the bottom of the canto with a first-pitch single through the right side and, after Rich Poythress flied out harmlessly, Bryce Massanari moved the Bulldog shortstop over to second on a groundout and Matt Cerione brought him home by smacking the first pitch he saw down the left field line for a run-scoring double. Joey Lewis struck out swinging to end the inning with the Diamond Dogs trailing 3-1 in runs and 5-4 in hits.
Cardinal center fielder Sean Ratliff went without a hit in three official at-bats, marking Ratliff’s worst outing since Flem Snopes tricked him into buying the Old Frenchman Place.
Phelps led off the top of the fifth frame with a groundout, but there was cause for concern when August singled up the middle and Castro drew a four-pitch walk. Fortunately, Milleville grounded into the double play that ended the Cardinal’s turn at the plate. In the home half of the canto, a one-out base hit by Thoms went to waste when the Georgia second baseman was caught stealing on the way to his accustomed spot on the diamond.
After a single by Peisel evened the hits at half a dozen apiece, Olson flied out to left field to get the sixth stanza underway. Dodson retired the side in sequence in the top of the inning, but, after a first-pitch foulout by Beckham to start the home half of the frame, Poythress and Massanari turned consecutive 3-2 counts into a walk and a base hit, respectively.
In the ensuing plate appearance, Cerione likewise worked the count full before drawing the walk that loaded the bases and brought Austin Yount in from the bullpen. The Stanford reliever threw four consecutive balls to Robbie O’Bryan to walk home a run before striking out Allen on a payoff pitch. Thoms thereafter lined out on a hard-hit ball to first base.
Dodson got Jones to ground out and fanned Schlander on three pitches before issuing the walk to Phelps that marked the end of his time on the mound. Alex McRee was brought in to pitch to August and the latest Bulldog reliever convinced the Cardinal left fielder to ground out to short.
The home half of the inning commenced with a Peisel groundout, which was followed by an Olson flyout before Beckham punched a single through the left side to put the tying run aboard for Poythress. The Georgia first baseman took Yount to a full count before drawing a base on balls.
After arguably getting jobbed out of a home run, Massanari was plunked to put three aboard for Cerione, whose single to center field plated Beckham to tie the game and scored Poythress to give the Classic City Canines the lead. O’Bryan fouled out to end the inning and bring McRee back to the mound for the top of the eighth frame. The Georgia reliever struck out Castro, induced Milleville to fly out, and struck out Molina in succession.
After retiring the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the canto, Yount was yanked (actually, moved to third base) in favor of Michael Marshall, who persuaded Peisel to pop up and end the inning. That brought Joshua Fields to the hill to pitch the top of the ninth stanza and, as usual, he induced the requisite degree of panic in yours truly before shutting the door on the Cardinal.
Ratliff grounded out to start the inning, but Fields beaned Gerhart in the helmet and issued the walk to Yount that put the tying run in scoring position. Figuring that my nerves now were sufficiently frazzled for him to stop toying with my fragile psyche, Fields convinced Colin Walsh to ground into the double play that put his 40th career save and another Georgia victory in the books.
Nick Montgomery had a tough outing, for which he is to be forgiven; he has contributed too much this postseason for us to fault him too much for a three-inning start in which he faced 15 batters and gave up five hits, including a double, a triple, and a home run. In six stanzas’ worth of relief, however, Stephen Dodson, Alex McRee, and Joshua Fields combined to tally four strikeouts, allow only one hit, and give up no runs, earned or otherwise.
In the opposing dugout, Jeffrey Inman began the ballgame well, lasting a little over five frames and notching five strikeouts while conceding only two earned runs. While Austin Yount and Michael Marshall gave up only two hits and two walks between them, they permitted the critical two earned runs that made the difference in the contest.
In a well-played game featuring no errors by either team, the Diamond Dogs out-hit the Cardinal by a 9-6 margin as they scratched and clawed their way to a one-run comeback win. The hero of the game, if there was one, was Matt Cerione (2 for 3, 3 R.B.I.), although Bryce Massanari quite literally missed it by that much. (On the plus side, he is married to a former Miss Nevada. Memo to Austin Yount: next time, get ESPN2 to turn their cameras on your gymnast fiancée or your beauty queen wife instead of your mom snapping pictures for your scrapbook. Losing is one thing; being exposed as lame is quite another.)
In what turned out to be a whale of an open comment thread, SG Standard said it best: the Classic City Canines are the cardiac kids, always keeping us on the edges of our seats yet somehow finding a way to win when it counts. The winner of Wednesday’s Miami-Stanford elimination game will face the Red and Black on Friday afternoon, when Georgia will have the chance to advance to the College World Series finals.