The Diamond Dogs began their final series of the season at Foley Field on Thursday night. The Athenians faced a surging Kentucky squad making a serious bid for one of the final spots in the SEC tournament. Georgia sought to play spoiler to the visitors, and the Classic City Canines managed to hang on for their first conference triumph since April 11.
Justin Grimm retired the side in the top of the first frame before Peter Verdin led off the home half of the inning with a base hit. Johnathan Taylor drew a walk, then Levi Hyams advanced both baserunners with a groundout. A Zach Cone groundout scored the Bulldog right fielder to give the Red and Black an early lead.
The Bat Cats had only a one-out single to show for the visitors’ half of the second stanza, and Georgia generated only a pair of walks in the bottom of the canto. Kentucky produced two singles but no runs in the top of the third inning, but the Classic City Canines took better advantage of their scoring opportunities in the bottom of the frame.
Verdin led off with a single, and the next three Diamond Dogs to step into the batter’s box notched base hits of their own, tallying two runs in the process. Although Hyams was put out at third base, a Kyle Farmer single and a Robert Shipman walk loaded the bases for Chase Davidson. The Georgia designated hitter plated two with a base hit. A pitching switch led to two quick outs, but the Athenians had built up a five-run lead on a six-hit stanza.
The Wildcats had a retort in the top of the fourth frame. Lance Ray and Marcus Nidiffer drew consecutive one-out walks, and, after Braden Kapteyn went down swinging, the Blue and White first baseman scored on a wild pitch. For the third time in four innings, Verdin got on board to begin the Bulldogs’ turn at the plate and came around to score. The Georgia leadoff hitter was plunked, took third on a Taylor single, and came home on a Hyams double. A base hit by Cone tacked on two more.
The Kentuckians went in order on a pop-up, a groundout, and a flyout in the upper half of the fifth canto, whereas the home team’s only baserunner in the bottom of the inning reached on an error. A leadoff bunt single in the top of the sixth stanza was erased by a double-play grounder.
Following a half-inning in which the Bulldogs went three up and three down, Nidiffer drew a walk to open the top of the seventh frame. Kapteyn moved him over to third with a double. A sacrifice fly scored one run, and a Taylor Black base hit plated another, but no additional damage was done, so the canto concluded with the Diamond Dogs leading 8-3 in runs and 10-7 in hits.
Davidson drew a one-out base on balls in the bottom of the stanza before taking second on a wild pitch, but he advanced no farther. The top of the eighth inning saw Gunner Glad send a one-out single into right field. Ray moved him over to third with a base hit of his own, enabling Nidiffer to bring Glad home with a sacrifice fly before a Kapteyn groundout got the home half of the frame underway.
Cone’s two-out single came to naught, so the contest proceeded to the top of the final scheduled stanza. David Perno left Grimm in to see if he could finish what he started, and the Georgia hurler proceeded to issue a leadoff walk to Keenan Wiley and concede a two-run homer to Black. With the Diamond Dogs now leading 8-6 in runs and 11-10 in hits, and with visions of ninth-inning comebacks now dancing in his head, Coach Perno sent Justin Earls in from the bullpen. The Red and Black reliever extracted a groundout, a strikeout, and a foulout from the three Wildcats he faced.
Obviously, there is only so thrilled I am able to be about a game in which the Diamond Dogs very nearly squandered an 8-1 lead by being outscored 5-0 in the final five frames. After conceding four hits through six stanzas, Justin Grimm gave up six hits the rest of the way. Nevertheless, there is much to be said for the Red and Black’s performance on Thursday night.
Grimm struck out five of the 35 batters he faced, surrendered six earned runs in eight cantos’ worth of work, and carded a win in a season in which the junior starter has pitched much better than his record suggests. Justin Earls secured his first save of the spring by denying the Blue and White so much as a single baserunner, while the fielding was flawless in Georgia’s error-free outing. The first four hitters in the Bulldog lineup (Peter Verdin, Johnathan Taylor, Levi Hyams, and Zach Cone) combined to go nine for 18 and bat in six runs.
Also, the Red and Black won, which is nice.