The Diamond Dogs arrived at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville having already lost the series on a pair of ninth-inning heartbreakers, but any hope of salvaging the weekend by avoiding the sweep was squelched by a bullpen meltdown and poor situational hitting. Florida cruised to a 9-3 victory.
A two-out Preston Tucker single in the bottom of the inning was all either team had to show for the first frame, and a one-out Bryson Smith walk in the home half of the canto produced the only baserunner of the second stanza. Georgia carded a pair of two-out first-pitch base hits in the top of the third inning yet proved unable to break the scoreless deadlock.
Trouble began for the Bulldogs in the bottom of the frame. Josh Adams turned Michael Palazzone’s first pitch into a leadoff single, and Nolan Fontana followed with a base hit of his own. After Matt den Dekker drew the walk that loaded the bases, Tucker sent the sacrifice fly to left field that gave the Gators a 1-0 lead in runs to go with their 3-2 edge in hits.
Palazzone fanned the next batter but gave up a run-scoring single to Daniel Pigott. The Florida right fielder was thrown out at second to end the home team’s turn at the plate. The Athenians answered in the upper half of the fourth frame. Zach Cone sent a one-out single into right field, then Brett DeLoach was hit by a pitch with two outs away to set up a double-steal. With a base knock to center field, Kevin Ruiz snarled the hits at four per side and drove in a run. The Red and Black designated hitter was put out at home to keep the Diamond Dogs’ deficit at a run.
Palazzone struck out the first two batters he faced in the lower half of the canto before giving up a Ben McMahan double down the left field line. Although the Orange and Blue catcher stole third, he was stranded by an Adams groundout. Johnathan Taylor walked on four pitches with one out away in the top of the fifth inning, and Peter Verdin evened the hits at five per side with the single that put runners at the corners. Both runners remained on the basepaths when the next two Bulldog batters fouled out and flied out, respectively.
A leadoff single and a stolen base went to waste in the bottom of the stanza, thanks to a trio of flyouts, while Cone’s leadoff double in the visitors’ half of the sixth frame leveled the hit count at six apiece yet likewise came to naught when three outs ensued. The hurling responsibilities devolved upon Chase Hawkins in the lower half of the inning, in which the Gators tallied a one-out single and a two-out single before Malcolm Clapsaddle came on and walked the bases loaded. Fontana next drew the base on balls that forced home a run and brought in Blake Dieterich from the bullpen.
The latest Georgia reliever did what his predecessor on the mound had done, issuing free passes to den Dekker and Tucker on eight straight pitches to push another couple of runs across home plate. On came Cecil Tanner, who walked a batter to score one, threw a wild pitch to score another, and walked another batter to load the bases anew. Next on the firing line was Cooper Moseley, who surrendered a two-RBI single on a 3-2 count before extracting the flyout that finally ended the disastrous canto.
The seventh stanza consisted of three groundouts in the top of the inning and a strikeout followed by a pair of flyouts in the bottom of the frame. A pair of hit batsmen and a throwing error on a fielder’s choice tacked a run onto the Georgia tally in the top of the eighth canto, but a double-play grounder killed all hope of a rally. In the Sunshine State Saurians’ turn at the plate, a leadoff single and a one-out walk came to nothing.
The Red and Black attempted a rally in the top of the ninth stanza, starting with Chase Davidson’s leadoff single. The Bulldog pinch hitter made it as far as third on a lineout and an error before Taylor scored him on a two-out base hit. A Verdin single put two men aboard before Robert Shipman went down swinging to end the game.
Michael Palazzone started the game and lasted five frames, striking out five and walking two while conceding two earned runs on six hits. Florida committed more errors (2-1), left more men on base (9-8), and registered only one more hit (10-9) than the Classic City Canines. Georgia got decent days at the plate from Zach Cone (2 for 4), Johnathan Taylor (2 for 3), and Peter Verdin (3 for 5).
However, the Diamond Dogs managed only two RBI to the Gators’ eight, and the bullpen melted down completely in three innings’ worth of work. Six relievers combined to strike out two, walk seven, and give up seven earned runs despite surrendering just four hits.
In a three-game set with the Orange and Blue, Georgia tallied 27 hits to the Floridians’ 22 and saw the Bulldog starters combine for 18 innings, 16 hits, seven earned runs, 19 strikeouts, and five walks. That ought to have been enough to have won at least one game.