The QTI Apparel Opening Weekend Classic got underway at Baylor Ballpark when the hometown Bears dealt visiting Duke a 9-3 setback before hosting David Perno’s Diamond Dogs, who were kicking off their season in Waco on Friday evening. In a battle of Georgia’s Zachs versus Baylor’s Logans, the Classic City Canines emerged victorious in a 7-5 outing that began as a pitchers’ duel but devolved into an error-filled slugfest.
The Red and Black were retired in order in the top of the first inning and, upon taking the mound in the home half of the opening canto, Justin Grimm promptly surrendered a leadoff single to Logan Vick. The Baylor left fielder swiped second and took third on a Joey Hainsfurther groundout. Dan Evatt walked on four straight pitches after Max Muncy went down swinging and Cal Towey drew the frame’s second straight base on balls to put three men aboard for Raynor Campbell. The Bear third baseman struck out to preserve the scoreless initial stanza.
Georgia once again went three up and three down in the top of the second stanza and the home team picked up where it left off when Josh Ludy drew a leadoff walk. The next three Bears flied out in succession, so the contest proceeded to the third frame, in which no batter for either team reached base.
After no Bulldog reached base in the top of the fourth inning, Grimm’s first pitch of the bottom of the stanza was put into play by Towey, who was thrown out at first. Campbell followed that up with a single up the middle and a stolen base, but the next two Baylor batters recorded outs to strand the hometown third baseman at his accustomed position.
Zach Taylor worked the count full by fouling off two pitches with two strikes against him to draw a leadoff walk at the outset of the fifth frame and Zach Cone put Logan Verrett’s next pitch into play for the single that put two men aboard. Robbie O’Bryan bunted into a fielder’s choice but reached base on the Campbell throwing error that allowed the Georgia center fielder to score after the lead runner was cut down at third. A Christian Glisson single and a Kyle Farmer double scored O’Bryan, and, once Todd Hankins grounded out, Johnathan Taylor punched a base hit through the right side to bring home two more.
By the time Peter Verdin struck out swinging, the Diamond Dogs had concluded a four-hit, four-run canto. Grimm immediately surrendered a leadoff single to center field to Landis Ware in the bottom of the inning and the Bear shortstop took third on a stolen base and a Vick flyout. A Muncy home run on an 0-2 count evened the hits at four apiece and cut the Georgia lead in half.
A catcher’s interference gave each team one error and allowed Evatt to reach first before Towey stared at a called third strike. The Bulldog designated hitter carded a one-out single in the visitors’ half of the sixth stanza and Cone belted a base hit of his own in the next at-bat. O’Bryan grounded into a double play on the next pitch to bring the Bears back up to bat and Cooper Moseley to the mound. Grimm had given up four hits and two runs in five frames, striking out six and walking three of the 23 batters he faced.
The Red and Black reliever struck out Campbell before giving up the consecutive singles to Ludy and Chris Slater that leveled the hits at six per side. After Ware flied out, Justin Earls took over on the hill and walked Vick to load the bases for Hainsfurther. The Baylor second baseman dropped the two-RBI single into left center field that tied the game before Muncy struck out to strand two.
The Classic City Canines responded in kind in the top of the seventh stanza when Glisson returned Verrett’s first pitch up the middle for a base hit. A Farmer single and a Hankins sacrifice bunt put two baserunners in scoring position, both of whom were brought home on a base hit by the Bulldog left fielder. In the wake of a Verdin flyout and a stolen base, Colby May recorded the final out to leave the Red and Black leading 9-7 in hits and 6-4 in runs.
Campbell’s first-pitch double down the left field line with two outs away in the bottom of the inning was squandered when Ludy flied out to take the game to the eighth frame. Verrett was relieved by Kevin Winter after notching five strikeouts and conceding six runs on nine hits and a walk. The Baylor reliever retired the side and Alex McRee came on in the bottom of the stanza.
Slater led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch after Ware went down swinging. A Vick groundout moved the Baylor center fielder to third but Hainsfurther grounded out to leave him there. Georgia opened the final scheduled stanza with a pair of groundouts before a Hankins double and another Campbell error brought another Bulldog run home. A first-pitch single by Verdin came to naught when the lead runner was thrown out at home plate.
Any comfort afforded the Georgia faithful by their three-run lead evaporated when McRee surrendered a solo shot to Muncy at the outset of the home half of the inning. Evatt drew a base on balls to bring the tying run to the plate and the remainder of the inning was appropriately nerve-wracking: Towey struck out swinging then Campbell walked; Ludy struck out swinging but Slater walked. With the bases loaded, the winning run aboard, and two outs away in the frame, Ware watched a called third strike sail into the catcher’s mitt.
Pitching is supposed to be the strength of this Georgia team, so it is somewhat disconcerting that the Bears twice went yard and tacked on a double against the Red and Black staff. Nevertheless, the Bulldog hurlers fanned a dozen and managed to turn an 11-10 edge in hits into a 7-5 advantage in runs thanks to Johnathan Taylor’s two-for-five, four-RBI night. There’s a lot of baseball left to play this season---heck, there’s a lot of baseball left to play this weekend---but a 1-0 start is a 1-0 start, and, with a team this young, I’ll take it.