The Diamond Dogs traveled to Baton Rouge for the first game of a three-game SEC set with defending national champion Louisiana State on Friday night, and Georgia fans expected the worst. The hard-hitting Tigers were expected to batter the Bulldogs senseless, but, instead, the Red and Black fell by a run.
The game began with Peter Verdin carding a one-out single in the second at-bat of the first frame. Levi Hyams followed by drawing a walk before Zach Cone sent a double-play ball into center field. Justin Grimm plunked Trey Watkins to start the bottom of the canto, then, after extracting outs from the next two LSU batters, the Georgia hurler walked Micah Gibbs and Matt Gaudet in succession. The bases were loaded for Leon Landry, who flied out to right field.
Colby May drew a one-out walk sandwiched between two strikeouts in the top of the second stanza and Grimm coaxed outs from every Bayou Bengal batter in the home half of the inning aside from Beau Didier, who was hit by a pitch. Johnathan Taylor drove a one-out double to left field in the visitors’ half of the third frame, after which Verdin reached on a Didier error, but Hyams stared at a called third strike and the Georgia right fielder was thrown out at third.
Tyler Hanover led off the bottom of the canto with a single, and, one out later, Gibbs evened the hits at two per side with another single to put runners at the corners. The Louisiana State second baseman scored on a Gaudet groundout and a wild pitch permitted the Tiger catcher to take third. Once Landry and Mikie Mahtook walked, the bases once again were loaded, but Austin Nola hit into the fielder’s choice that stranded three. At the end of three innings, Georgia trailed by a respectable 1-0 score.
Cone tied the game with a leadoff home run in the top of the fourth frame, after which Chris Matulis took over for Anthony Ranaudo and struck out the side. No Bayou Bengal reached base in the home half of the stanza. Kyle Farmer carded the only hit by either side in the fifth canto, and the Diamond Dogs had only a two-out Cone double to show for the upper half of the sixth inning.
Grimm hit Landry with a pitch to get the bottom of the frame underway, and, two outs later, the Louisiana State center fielder swiped second, from which a Didier single scored him. Steve Esmonde secured the final out, leaving the Red and Black trailing by a still-respectable 2-1 tally after half a dozen innings were in the books.
Georgia went three up and three down in the top of the seventh frame, but a Nola single with the bases loaded brought home two runs in the bottom of the stanza. The Red and Black answered in the ensuing inning, when a leadoff walk by Carson Schilling and a one-out double by Verdin enabled Hyams to score one on a groundout and Cone to plate another on a double. By the end of the canto, the Bulldogs led 7-5 in hits and trailed 4-3 in runs.
Cooper Moseley overcame a leadoff walk issued by Cecil Tanner in the home half of the frame, eliciting outs from the next three Bayou Bengals to bring the Classic City Canines back up to bat with one last chance to pull out the victory. The first two Georgia batters went down swinging before Farmer walked to bring the would-be go-ahead run to the plate. Schilling swung at strike three to bring down the curtain on a hard-fought contest.
Although the last thing this team needed was another one-run loss, the Diamond Dogs performed admirably, twice answering scores by the Fighting Tigers in the ensuing half-inning and out-hitting the home team while playing errorless baseball. Anthony Ranaudo fanned four and surrendered a lone earned run in three innings’ worth of work in his first start after returning from injury, but Justin Grimm lasted into the sixth stanza and overcame four walks to hold the opposition to two earned runs. The Athenians struck out thirteen times yet benefited from good evenings at the plate by Zach Cone (3 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI) and Peter Verdin (2 for 4).
The Red and Black showed some fight against a top-tier baseball club on the road. A loss is still a loss, but this was as hope-inducing a setback as any Georgia team has endured since, well, basketball season.