I will admit that I was surprised when the Diamond Dogs received a national seed, but the charge that S.E.C. baseball teams were given excessive credit compared to their Big 12 coevals was dealt considerable damage both by the Big 12’s poor showing and by Georgia’s rebound from a rocky start to the tournament, which was capped off by an 18-6 Red and Black victory over the Ramblin’ Wreck at Foley Field.
Monday night’s decisive game seven got underway when Ryan Peisel walked on a payoff pitch to lead off the top of the first frame. The Georgia third baseman advanced to second on a Matt Olson single and took third on a flyout to center field from Gordon Beckham. This set the stage for Rich Poythress to give the Classic City Canines a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly.
Bryce Massanari sent a single into right field to put runners at the corners and a wild pitch by Zach Von Tersch permitted the Bulldog right fielder to come home. After Matt Cerione walked on four straight pitches, Robbie O’Bryan reached on the fielding error which allowed the Red and Black catcher to score. Lyle Allen thereafter stared at the called third strike that ended the Diamond Dogs’ turn at the plate.
The Yellow Jackets were able to answer in the bottom of the canto, as Charlie Blackmon, Jeff Rowland, and Luke Murton opened the proceedings with three straight singles to plate a Georgia Tech run. After a wild pitch by Justin Grimm enabled both baserunners to advance into scoring position, Derek Dietrich drew a walk and the Ramblin’ Wreck center fielder scored on a passed ball.
Alex McRee came in from the bullpen and immediately surrendered the base hit to Tony Plagman that plated Murton. Although Brad Feltes went down swinging in the next at-bat, a wild pitch moved the Golden Tornado first baseman to second. A sacrifice fly by Jason Haniger scored Dietrich and a base hit by Patrick Long scored Plagman. By the time Chris House struck out, the Yellow Jackets had taken a 5-3 lead.
Georgia went back on the offensive in the top of the second stanza, when Brandon Cumpton took over on the mound and began by walking David Thoms. Following Peisel’s double-play groundout, the Classic City Canines loaded the bases on singles by Olson and Beckham followed by a four-pitch walk by Poythress. Massanari’s ensuing single to left field plated two to even both the runs and the hits at five per side.
After a fielding error by Long enabled Cerione to reach base and allowed Poythress to score an unearned run, O’Bryan flied out with the Red and Black having retaken the lead. McRee retired the first two batters in the Ramblin’ Wreck order to get the bottom of the frame underway before walking Murton on a payoff pitch and allowing Dietrich to move him into scoring position with the single that gave Georgia Tech a 6-5 edge in hits to offset Georgia’s 6-5 lead in runs.
Plagman struck out to end the threat and bring the Bulldogs back up to bat in the top of the third canto. Allen evened the hitting anew with a single to second base and, although Thoms set down the sacrifice bunt that moved the Georgia left fielder over to second, flyouts by Peisel and Olson stranded Allen in scoring position.
McRee began the bottom of the inning by striking out Feltes before conceding a single up the middle to Haniger. Thomas Nichols fouled off three straight pitches along the way to hitting into the fielder’s choice that cut down the lead runner and House thereafter grounded out to leave Georgia Tech with a 7-6 advantage in hits but Georgia with a 6-5 lead in runs.
Beckham swung at the first pitch thrown by Cumpton in the top of the fourth frame and reached first base on a fielding error by his Yellow Jacket counterpart. A Poythress double down the left field line snarled the hitting at seven apiece, put two Diamond Dogs in scoring position with no one out, and caused Andrew Robinson to be brought in from the bullpen.
The new Golden Tornado hurler walked Massanari on four straight pitches to load the bases for Cerione. Robinson’s first pitch to the Bulldog center fielder was the first strike thrown to a Georgia batter in the inning, but his fourth pitch to Cerione was returned for a double that plated a pair of runs.
Georgia Tech’s second fielding error of the inning, and the Ramblin’ Wreck’s fourth miscue of the game, allowed O’Bryan to reach base and advance to second, but, more importantly, it enabled Massanari and Cerione to score. The next three Classic City Canines grounded out in succession to prevent the Red and Black from building on their 10-5 lead.
McRee plunked Blackmon to start off the bottom of the canto, but the lead runner’s time on the basepaths ended swiftly when Rowland hit into a fielder’s choice. After the Golden Tornado center fielder swiped second, however, Murton reached on the throwing error by Peisel that enabled the Yellow Jackets to score an unearned run. The next two batters flied out and fouled out, respectively.
Olson led off the fifth canto by turning a payoff pitch into a base hit and, after Beckham watched a called third strike sail by, Poythress turned the first pitch thrown his way into a two-run shot to left center field. The next two Bulldog batters registered outs, bringing Dean Weaver to the mound to pitch the bottom of the inning.
McRee had gone four frames, striking out five while surrendering four hits, one walk, and one earned run. Weaver followed that up by surrendering the single to Feltes which marked the end of the Georgia reliever’s time on the hill. Along came Will Harvil, who persuaded Haniger to chase strike three, convinced Nichols to watch strike three, and coaxed a groundout from Chase Burnette.
The pitching duties devolved upon Chris Hicks at the outset of the sixth stanza and the latest Ramblin’ Wreck hurler immediately extracted a lineout from O’Bryan before plunking Allen and giving up a base hit to Thoms. After Peisel went down swinging, Olson sent a single up the middle and took second on the throw as Allen came around to make it 13-6.
Beckham put the first pitch he saw into right field for a base hit and a muffed throw by Dietrich allowed the Georgia shortstop to take second base. Meanwhile, Thoms and Olson came around to score, so the Diamond Dogs held a 15-6 advantage by the time Poythress put the next pitch into center field for a flyout. Rowland’s one-out single in the bottom of the canto was nullified when Murton grounded into a double play.
A leadoff single by Massanari in the top of the seventh inning was followed by Cerione striking out and O’Bryan reaching on a fielder’s choice. After a base hit by Allen advanced the Georgia designated hitter into scoring position, Thoms dropped a first-pitch single into left field. Allen made it as far as third on the sixth Yellow Jacket error of the evening and O’Bryan scored to give the Diamond Dogs their 16th run to match their 16th hit.
Peisel walked on a payoff pitch to load the bases for Olson, who singled to center field off of new Golden Tornado pitcher Taylor Wood to bring home two more runs. By the time Beckham grounded out to wrap up a four-hit, three-run frame, the Classic City Canines had taken an 18-6 advantage.
Harvil surrendered a first-pitch single to Dietrich in the bottom of the canto and, when Plagman hit into a fielder’s choice, a muffed throw by Thoms allowed both Yellow Jackets to reach base safely. Feltes flied out, Haniger struck out, and Nichols grounded out in the next three at-bats to strand both baserunners.
Yes, the extent of this whooping has gotten so completely out of hand that I am left with no choice but to recycle the same lame jokes from earlier in this very posting.
Poythress’s leadoff walk in the top of the eighth frame was negated when Massanari grounded into a double play. Cerione’s subsequent strikeout brought Georgia Tech back up to bat in the bottom of the canto and Burnette began the proceedings with a base hit followed by a stolen base. A lineout, a flyout, and a groundout then ensued.
Because they had come through the losers’ bracket, the Classic City Canines were the nominal visiting team on Monday night, so they came back up to bat in the top of the ninth stanza after having scored multiple runs in six of the preceding eight innings. Awaiting them on the mound was Brad Rulon, who extracted groundouts from Joey Lewis and Adam Fuller prior to surrendering a single to Miles Starr.
Peisel grounded out to bring about the most encouraging sight in all of Bulldog Nation during baseball season: Joshua Fields taking the mound in the bottom of the ninth. (The fact that the Diamond Dogs had a twelve-run lead didn’t hurt matters, of course.) The Georgia closer struck out Dietrich, extracted a first-pitch groundout from Plagman, and struck out Feltes on three straight pitches to put the Athens Regional in the books.
A little over a year ago, I asked whether David Perno was getting the job done with the Diamond Dogs. He answered emphatically with a regular-season Southeastern Conference crown and a first-round victory in the N.C.A.A. tournament before a sellout home crowd. Counting their two outings in Hoover during the S.E.C. tourney, the Classic City Canines collected 31 hits and scored 12 runs in their first 33 innings of postseason play, but, beginning in the seventh stanza of the Louisville game, the Red and Black rallied for 61 hits and 47 runs in the last 30 frames of regional competition.
In the words of Coach Perno’s and my fellow University of Georgia graduate, Will Muschamp: "Boom! Yeah! . . . That’s what I’m talking about!" (O.K., there may have been another word where I placed the ellipses.)
Monday evening’s outing was a laugher that confirmed Paul Westerdawg’s position that all the pressure was on Georgia Tech and Jeff Schultz’s reminder that the Yellow Jackets always choke against Georgia when it matters. The Ramblin’ Wreck’s six-error night more or less verifies the reality that the Golden Tornado can’t beat the Red and Black when the chips are down. (Game seven, it should be noted, gave the Diamond Dogs not only the regional title, but also the season series, which Georgia took from Georgia Tech, three games to two.)
Matt Olson went on a tear, going five for six, batting in three runs, and scoring four. The Classic City Canines likewise enjoyed solid evenings from Gordon Beckham (2 for 6, 2 R.B.I.), Rich Poythress (2 for 3, 3 R.B.I., 1 home run), Bryce Massanari (3 for 5, 2 R.B.I.), and David Thoms (2 for 3, 1 R.B.I.).
Following a rough start by Justin Grimm in which he gave up three hits and four earned runs without getting anyone out, the bullpen performed as capably as we came to expect during most of the regular season. Will Harvil gave the Diamond Dogs four solid innings, during which he notched as many strikeouts as he permitted hits (3) and allowed no earned runs, and the Yellow Jackets were outscored 15-1 after the first frame.
N.C. State, the top seed in the Raleigh Regional, rode a strong Wolfpack bullpen to victory in the first round and the A.C.C. squad will travel to Foley Field on Friday for the opening outing of the Athens Super Regional. Until then, though, sit back and enjoy the win.