It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. The Diamond Dogs came into Wednesday afternoon’s outing against Western Carolina having gone 1-8 in midweek contests since February 24. The Classic City Canines hosted a Catamount club that had given up eleven or more runs in four of its last five games yet still had gone to Doug Kingsmore Stadium on April 14 and beaten a Clemson team that defeated Georgia in that venue one week earlier. Although it took them a while to get going, the Athenians outlasted their guests in a 13-10 shootout.
Through April 25, WCU ranked 85th in Division I in batting average (.314), ranked 55th in slugging percentage (.492), and was tied for 95th in runs (292). The Catamounts came up to the plate in the top of the first frame facing a Red and Black squad ranked 277th in earned run average (8.51). Alex McRee, making his first start of the season, retired the first two batters he faced before surrendering a solo home run to Tyler Kirkpatrick. Ross Heffley thereafter went down swinging.
In the bottom of the initial inning, the Bulldogs had their turn at bat. As of last Sunday, the Athenians stood at 232nd in batting average (.283) and 179th in slugging percentage (.432) while being tied for 213th in runs (223). The Catamounts’ starting pitcher, T.J. Page, represented a staff ranked 97th in the land in ERA (5.28). In his first career start, the freshman right-hander conceded a leadoff single to Johnathan Taylor, extracted a pop-up from Peter Verdin, and walked Levi Hyams. Taylor subsequently was caught stealing before Robert Shipman chased strike three.
The Catamounts, a classy bunch whose athletics department issues press releases with the word "amidst" in the headline, returned to the plate in the upper half of the second stanza. Ollie Goulder led off with a walk, but Trevor Collias grounded into a double play to erase the baserunner.
Kyle Farmer began the home half of the canto with a base hit but was caught stealing, so Zach Taylor’s ensuing home run merely tied the game instead of giving the Red and Black the lead. The next two Bulldog batters registered outs. In the top of the third inning, McRee walked Bryant Noteboom before giving way to Zach Laughlin. The new Georgia hurler gave up a single to Dylan de Graaf, who was put out at second when Austin Schultz reached on a fielder’s choice.
A stolen base and a hit batsman loaded the bases for Kirkpatrick, who drove a double into right field to bring home three runs. Eric Swegman then came in from the bullpen and persuaded the next two Catamount batters to ground out to short. The Athenians’ answer in the bottom of the frame began with back-to-back singles by Todd Hankins and Johnathan Taylor. A one-out single by Hyams brought home a run, but a third baserunner caught stealing in as many stanzas allowed Jeremy Sluder to coax the final out from Farmer.
Western Carolina resumed the assault in the top of the fourth frame. Collias carded a leadoff single, swiped second, and came home on a base hit by Tyler White. Steve Esmonde took over on the hill, giving up an RBI double to de Graaf but otherwise eliciting outs from all the opposing batters he encountered. Christian Glisson sent a two-out solo shot to right field in the bottom of the inning. A Hankins single was negated when the Bulldog third baseman became the latest Athenians to be caught stealing.
The Catamounts went three up and three down in the top of the fifth frame. The Georgia center fielder began the proceedings in the home half of the canto with a leadoff double before advancing to third on a wild pitch with two outs away in the inning. A Zach Cone single scored a run before Farmer hit into a fielder’s choice.
Malcolm Clapsaddle assumed the pitching duties in the top of the sixth stanza and immediately surrendered a leadoff home run to Collias. Cameron Dullnig sent a one-out single into left field and stole second, allowing de Graaf to score him with a base hit. After the WCU center fielder stole second, Schultz brought him home with a single. Ben Cornwell was sent in to put out the fire, and, although he plunked Matt Johns and surrendered a bases-loading single to Kirkpatrick, he induced Heffley to hit into a double play to prevent further damage from being done.
In the bottom of the frame, Brett DeLoach and Lance Martin drew consecutive one-out walks, so Hankins’s three-run homer evened the hits at eleven apiece while cutting the Western Carolina lead to two. A bunt single in the next at-bat marked the end of the line for the Catamount hurler, so Andrew Chilcoat was brought in to strike out Verdin, balk the baserunner over to second, and give up a game-tying two-run shot to Hyams.
Cone kept the canto going with a walk, took third on a Farmer double, and came home on the Kevin Ruiz single that caused Andrew Blackwell to come in from the bullpen. The latest WCU pitcher threw the wild pitch that allowed another run to score. A DeLoach double plated Ruiz before Martin stared at strike three to bring down the curtain on the Diamond Dogs’ six-hit, eight-run inning.
After combining for eleven runs in the sixth stanza, the two teams between them failed to produce a baserunner in the seventh frame. When the hurling duties devolved upon Cecil Tanner in the top of the eighth canto, a Farmer error enabled Dullnig to reach base and a wild pitch permitted him to advance. De Graaf popped up and Dullnig was put out at third, but three straight singles by Schultz, Johns, and Kirkpatrick pushed an unearned run across home plate before Heffley grounded out to preserve the home team’s two-run cushion.
The Red and Black padded their lead in the lower half of the inning. Hyams led off with a single, Farmer followed with a one-out base hit of his own, the runners successfully executed a double steal to make up for all the ill-fated stolen base attempts earlier in the contest, and a wild pitch allowed Hyams to come home in the interstice between strikeouts.
The ball was turned over to Cooper Moseley at the start of the ninth canto. Needing to secure three outs before surrendering three runs, the Red and Black reliever obtained a strikeout and a flyout in short order. Then, though, White and Dullnig dropped successive singles into center field, thus bringing the potential tying run to the plate. De Graaf went down swinging to render the home half of the stanza superfluous.
David Perno announced in advance that he and Brady Wiederhold would be platooning pitchers on Wednesday night, and they sent eight hurlers to the hill. None lasted longer than two innings, and, together, they conceded sixteen hits and ten earned runs. Fortunately, the Bulldog hitters countered those numbers with production of their own, as Kyle Farmer (3 for 5), Todd Hankins (3 for 4, 3 RBI), Levi Hyams (3 for 4, 3 RBI), and Johnathan Taylor (4 for 5) all had good nights at the plate.
Georgia used three doubles and four home runs to good effect. Even though the Classic City Canines struck out twice as often as they walked (10-5), they used effective situational hitting to their advantage. When batting with two outs against them, the Bulldogs went seven for fourteen and drove in six runs.
Most important of all, though, the Red and Black committed a crucial "insurance error" in the top of the eighth inning while holding a 12-9 lead, thus staving off the inevitable loss that flawless fielding causes. Georgia is 0-11 when committing no errors, so Kyle Farmer staved off certain defeat with his shrewdly-timed miscue.