There will be no pictures in the account that follows, nor will there be funny captions or other attempts at humor, cleverness, glibness, or levity. Whatever ability I had to laugh was battered out of me over the course of the Diamond Dogs’ worst meltdown since last year’s season-ending disaster against South Carolina. The Red and Black fell to Fresno State in a 19-10 catastrophe on Tuesday night and here is how the debacle unfolded in Omaha:
Ryan Peisel began the top of the first inning by doing what leadoff hitters are supposed to do, getting on base with a single to center field. In an at-bat in which F.S.U. starter Justin Miller seemed to throw the ball to the first baseman more often than to the catcher, Matt Olson struck out swinging, but Gordon Beckham punched the first pitch tossed his way into left center field for the base hit that put runners at the corners.
Rich Poythress drove a single through the right side to score Peisel and a misjudgment in the Fresno State outfield put two men in scoring position. After Bryce Massanari popped up, Matt Cerione was issued an intentional walk so Miller could pitch to Joey Lewis. The Georgia designated hitter proceeded to park the first pitch thrown his way in center field to drive in two more runs.
Although Lyle Allen was hit by a pitch and David Thoms struck out to strand three, the Red and Black had taken an early lead on a four-hit, three-run canto. Nick Montgomery was sent to the mound in the bottom of the frame to face Danny Muno, who drew a leadoff walk to put a man aboard for Gavin Hedstrom. The Golden State center fielder reached on a fielder’s choice that saw Muno put out at second on a call that got some argument from the Fresno State dugout before Erik Wetzel sent a double-play ball to Beckham.
Peisel led off the visitors’ half of the second stanza with a single through the left side and, after Miller made a few more throws to first, the Georgia third baseman swiped second. A long out by Olson allowed Peisel to advance and a walk by Beckham put two men aboard for Poythress, whose first-pitch sacrifice fly plated another run before the Red and Black shortstop was caught stealing on another debatable call at second base.
The bottom of the frame saw the first two F.S.U. batters retired on a Steve Susdorf groundout and an Alan Ahmady pop-up, but a first-pitch single to center field glanced off of Cerione’s glove to put Tommy Mendonca aboard before Ryan Overland popped up to end the inning. Miller began the top of the third canto by walking Massanari on four pitches and walking Cerione on five.
After Lewis went down swinging and Allen lined out to first base on a botched bunt attempt, Thoms smacked a single just over the F.S.U. shortstop’s glove and into left center field to score Massanari. This sent Miller packing and brought Holden Sprague in from the bullpen to face Peisel, who struck out after the West Coast catcher was charged with an error on a dropped foul ball.
Steve Detwiler got the home half of the stanza underway by registering the second F.S.U. hit of the contest on a single to left field to put a runner on base for Jordan Ribera. The Fresno State designated hitter narrowly missed hitting a home run before going down swinging.
Muno started out 0-2 but worked the count full before Detwiler stole second and the Fresno State shortstop drew a walk. After Hedstrom loaded the bases with a single through the left side, a wild pitch by Montgomery allowed a run to score. Wetzel then walked on a payoff pitch and Susdorf took the count to 3-1 before driving in two runs with the single through the right side that ended Montgomery’s evening.
Stephen Dodson got the call and he proceeded to persuade Ahmady to pop up before surrendering a first-pitch three-run homer to right field to Mendonca. Overland grounded out to conclude the inning that ended with Georgia leading 6-5 in hits but Fresno State leading 6-5 in runs.
Olson led off the visitors’ half of the fourth frame with a double that nearly went for a game-tying home run and Beckham brought him the rest of the way around with a game-tying base hit up the middle. After Poythress fouled out and Massanari reached on a fielder’s choice that saw the Georgia shortstop safe at second, Cerione was victimized by a highly suspect called third strike and Beckham was caught stealing to end a two-hit, one-run canto.
Detwiler got the bottom of the inning underway with a base hit on a payoff pitch and Ribera sent him to third with a single up the middle. A Muno triple squared the hits at eight per side and plated a pair of runs to give Fresno State an 8-6 advantage. After Hedstrom fouled out, a Wetzel single plated Muno, at which time Will Harvil was sent to the hill. Susdorf stared at a called third strike before an Ahmady double down the left field line and an intentional walk to Mendonca loaded the bases for Overland. The F.S.U. catcher profited from some confusion in left field, as what ought to have been an out instead turned into the single that scored two more.
The disastrous six-hit, five-run canto finally ended when Detwiler went down swinging, but the representatives of the Raisin Capital of the World had taken an 11-6 lead in the process. The top of the fifth frame began to appear promising when Thoms and Peisel notched consecutive two-out singles, but Olson’s ensuing pop-up neutralized the threat.
Fresno State went right back on the offensive in the home half of the stanza, starting with a Ribera walk on a 3-2 pitch. A Muno single put runners at first and third. A first-pitch Hedstrom double scored Ribera, a Wetzel groundout scored Muno, and a Susdorf home run tacked on two more. By the time Ahmady popped up and Mendonca lined out, a three-hit, four-run inning had given F.S.U. a 15-6 lead.
A one-out single by Poythress in the top of the sixth stanza went for naught when Massanari grounded into a double play and, mercifully, Justin Grimm retired the first two F.S.U. batters he faced in the bottom of the canto. Although Ribera thereafter singled through the left side, Grimm’s next pitch was returned to second base by Muno for the fielder’s choice that ended the inning.
Cerione got on base to start the visitors’ half of the seventh frame by being hit by a pitch. Robbie O’Bryan’s ensuing single to right field moved the Georgia center fielder into scoring position and Adam Fuller’s subsequent single through the left side plated a much-needed run. Thoms singled to center field to load the bases and bring on Jake Hower from the Fresno State bullpen.
After Peisel struck out, Olson reached on a fielder’s choice and the second F.S.U. error of the evening allowed O’Bryan to score and put three men aboard for Beckham, who drew the walk that pushed another run across. Although Poythress swung for the fences during his turn at the plate, he came up a bit short and was credited with the sacrifice fly that scored Thoms.
Even though Jake Crane grounded out, Georgia’s three-hit, four-run frame had narrowed the gap to 15-10 heading into the bottom of the inning, in which Grimm plunked Hedstrom, walked Wetzel on five pitches, and walked Susdorf on four pitches to load the bases for Ahmady. The F.S.U. first baseman pushed a base hit through the right side to plate two runs and extend the West Coast Bulldogs’ lead to a touchdown.
On came Justin Earls, who struck out Mendonca on three pitches and extracted the pop-up from Danny Grubb that scored Susdorf before striking out Detwiler. Cerione began the top of the eighth canto with a hard-hit ball that was caught at the wall and O’Bryan followed that up by striking out swinging. Although Fuller sent a single through the right side, Thoms hit a ball that went down as a groundout despite the Fresno State first baseman’s questionable control of the ball he allegedly caught.
The hits just kept on coming as Jake Johnson singled through the right side to lead off the home half of the inning. After a first-pitch base hit up the middle by Muno marked the end of the line for Earls, Steve Esmonde persuaded Hedstrom to hit into the fielder’s choice that enabled Peisel to tag out the baserunner en route to third base.
A Wetzel single scored Muno before Susdorf’s first-pitch fielder’s choice registered the second out of the stanza. The hurling responsibilities then devolved upon Jason Leaver, who walked Ahmady on a payoff pitch before eliciting a groundout from Mendonca. The top of the ninth frame consisted of Peisel striking out, Olson being thrown out at first, Beckham reaching on a throwing error, and Poythress popping up to wrap up the disaster, at the end of which insult was added to injury through the fact that Jake Hower was credited with a save in a game his team won by nine runs.
This was a horrible, horrible game in which nothing went right for the Classic City Canines after the midpoint of the third inning. Out-hit 19-15 and outscored 19-10, the Diamond Dogs used seven pitchers and all but the last two allowed at least one earned run, with each of the first three giving up five apiece.
It didn’t matter that Georgia got solid days at the plate from Ryan Peisel (3 for 6), Gordon Beckham (2 for 4, 2 R.B.I.), Rich Poythress (2 for 4, 3 R.B.I.), Adam Fuller (2 for 2, 1 R.B.I.), and David Thoms (3 for 5, 1 R.B.I.). It didn’t matter because the Fresno State lineup produced at a level that was nightmarish to the point of inconceivability: Danny Muno (3 for 4, 2 R.B.I.), Gavin Hedstrom (2 for 5, 1 R.B.I.), Erik Wetzel (2 for 4, 3 R.B.I.), Steve Susdorf (2 for 5, 4 R.B.I.), Alan Ahmady (2 for 5, 2 R.B.I.), Tommy Mendonca (2 for 5, 3 R.B.I.), Steve Detwiler (2 for 5), and Jordan Ribera (2 for 3) all had great nights at the plate.
It didn’t matter that the Diamond Dogs played errorless baseball while F.S.U. was accused of three miscues. It didn’t matter that there were some bad calls, although there were some bad calls, because, even absent the bad calls, Fresno State probably would have won, anyway, and maybe by a lot. It didn’t matter because the three pitchers sent to the mound by the W.A.C. tourney champs collectively hit more batsmen (2) than they allowed doubles, triples, or home runs (1). You can’t complain about the officiating when you can’t get anybody out, anyway.
Tuesday night’s debacle was an outrageously awful outing utterly lacking in redeeming characteristics, a dark cloud entirely without a silver lining. Fortunately, however, it was just one contest in a three-game series and the Diamond Dogs, who did much right that got them this far, still are the team to beat heading into Wednesday night’s decisive showdown.
The national championship still is Georgia’s for the taking. The Red and Black simply have to decide whether Tuesday evening’s game is a harbinger of what is to be or, as I hope and believe will be the case, merely the latest instance of adversity along the winding path that leads to the highest mountaintop.