The Diamond Dogs arrived at Foley Field on Mother’s Day for their final home game of the regular season with an eight-game losing streak trailing behind them. Somehow, some way, the Red and Black returned to their early-season form by outlasting visiting Vanderbilt to claim a 4-3 victory.
Starting pitcher Justin Grimm succeeded in retiring the Commodores on a flyout, a strikeout, and a groundout in the top of the first canto, paving the way for Matt Cerione to stake the home team to a 1-0 lead with a solo shot to left field in the bottom of the inning. Vandy answered in the visitors’ half of the second stanza when Curt Casali led off with a double and Aaron Westlake followed with an R.B.I. single.
Although Andrew Giobbi dropped a subsequent single into center field and both baserunners advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch, Grimm struck out the next two batters before walking Joe Loftus. Brian Harris grounded out with the bases loaded to prevent the Commodores from taking the lead and the Athenians went three up and three down in the home half of the canto.
No Vanderbilt batter reached first base in the top of the third inning and, although Levi Hyams led off the home half of the stanza with a walk and moved into scoring position on a balk, the three groundouts that followed advanced him no farther than third. A one-out base hit by Giobbi in the top of the fourth frame was nullified when Jason Esposito grounded into a double play and no Diamond Dog reached base in the bottom of the inning.
Three straight one-out singles by the Commodores in the upper half of the fifth canto allowed the visitors to take a 2-1 lead and the Diamond Dogs’ effort to answer fell short in the home team’s turn at the plate. Chase Davidson began the bottom of the inning with a walk, only to have Joey Lewis reach on a fielder’s choice. A Hyams walk and a David Thoms single loaded the bases, but Lyle Allen and Cerione struck out to strand them.
A leadoff walk by Westlake in the top of the sixth stanza signaled the end of the line for Grimm, who was succeeded by Will Harvil. The new Georgia hurler coaxed a double-play ball out of Giobbi and persuaded Esposito to ground out and end the inning. A one-out Rich Poythress single in the bottom of the frame came to nothing when the next two Bulldog batters struck out looking.
Vandy went back on the offensive in the visitors’ half of the seventh canto when Jonathan White singled and Loftus sacrificed him over. Michael Palazzone came in from the bullpen and surrendered a single to Harris, but, when Riley Reynolds reached on a fielder’s choice, Poythress threw the Commodore center fielder out at home. Steven Liddle walked to load the bases, but Palazzone picked him off to silence the threat.
This kept the score 2-1, but it remained that way only until Lewis tied the game on a leadoff home run in the lower half of the inning. Although this was followed by a Hyams single, the Georgia shortstop was caught stealing. Consecutive walks were issued to Miles Starr and Allen, but a Cerione strikeout and a Colby May flyout prevented the Diamond Dogs from retaking the lead.
This failure to plate additional runs initially appeared costly, as Vanderbilt went back out in front in the top of the eighth frame. Casali walked to end Palazzone’s time on the hill and Dean Weaver arrived on the mound in time to walk Westlake. Giobbi’s sacrifice bunt put two runners in scoring position and, after Esposito fouled out, a passed ball enabled the Commodore first baseman to score an unearned run. White grounded out to keep the score 3-2.
Now it was the Classic City Canines’ turn to answer, and they did. A one-out solo home run by Bryce Massanari in the bottom of the canto tied the game anew and Georgia tried for more with a single by pinch hitter Robbie O’Bryan and a stolen base by pinch runner Zach Cone, but a Lewis strikeout and a Hyams groundout kept the score deadlocked.
Loftus’s leadoff single in the top of the ninth frame came to naught when Weaver extracted flyouts from Harris and Reynolds then persuaded Liddle to ground out to end the inning. Georgia generated the winning run in the bottom of the stanza when Michael Demperio was hit by a pitch and swiped second, Allen was plunked, and Cerione sent an R.B.I. single into left field to plate the winning run.
Now, that’s more like it! Granted, the Commodores notched more hits (10) than the Diamond Dogs (8). Admittedly, leadoff hitter Johnathan Taylor, cleanup hitter Rich Poythress, and designated hitter Bryce Massanari collectively went two for ten with one R.B.I., no walks, and a pair of strikeouts. Undeniably, the Red and Black went three up and three down twice while scoring no runs in the fifth frame despite having the bases loaded with only one out against them.
However, the Diamond Dogs committed no errors on Sunday. Five of Georgia’s eight hits and three of Georgia’s four runs came after the sixth inning, during the period ordinarily reserved for Red and Black meltdowns. Justin Grimm gave the Classic City Canines a quality start by striking out four, walking two, and conceding two earned runs in five cantos, whereas the bullpen lasted four frames in which the Bulldog relievers conceded no earned runs.
I’m not going to claim any kind of credit for this victory, although I did ask why Matt Cerione was hitting in the leadoff spot and what Michael Demperio was doing in the starting lineup on Friday, and, on Sunday, David Perno had Cerione batting second and employed Demperio as a pinch hitter. The result? Cerione went two for five and notched a pair of R.B.I., while Demperio got on base in his one plate appearance and scored the winning run. But, Coach Perno, if you’re a regular reader of Dawg Sports, you’re welcome.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was a win, and, at this point, I’ll take a triumph any way we can get it, particularly when it ensures (as this one did) an invitation to Hoover. The Diamond Dogs will be back in action at Turner Field on Tuesday, when they will have the opportunity to exact revenge on Georgia Tech for Georgia’s April 14 loss to the Yellow Jackets. In the meantime, savor this one. No pictures, no attempt at clever captions, just relief, and gratitude, and the warm comfort of knowing your team won. Good job, guys.