On the selfsame Saturday that the Georgia softball team kept its season alive with a 5-2 victory over Florida State, the Diamond Dogs ended their spring on a down note, falling 14-11 to Kentucky to close out the worst season in the long history of the Red and Black’s oldest varsity sport.
Michael Palazzone surrendered a leadoff double to Chris Bisson at the outset of the first inning before extracting outs from the next three Kentucky batters. The bottom of the canto saw Georgia score a pair of runs. Initially, Johnathan Taylor sent a one-out triple into center field and came home on a Levi Hyams single. Thereafter, the Bulldog second baseman moved over to his accustomed position on a Zach Cone single, advanced to third on a Kyle Farmer flyout, and scored on a wild pitch.
The Wildcats answered in the top of the second stanza. Marcus Nidiffer led off with a double, Taylor Black walked, and Keenan Wiley put down a bunt single to load the bases for Brian Adams. The Blue and White left fielder belted a grand slam, and the Bat Cats tacked on a fifth run when Bisson notched a one-out single, stole second base, and came home on a Chad Wright single.
A Brett DeLoach double and a pair of walks put three aboard for Peter Verdin in the home half of the frame, but the Red and Black right fielder grounded into a double play. Thanks to a Taylor single and a Gunner Glad error, two runs scored. A hit batsman was the only baserunner for either team in the third inning, but Kentucky added a run in the top of the fourth canto on a bunt single, a stolen base, and a pair of wild pitches.
Robert Shipman led off the lower half of the stanza with a walk, and, two outs later, he had made it as far as third base. Hyams grounded out to strand him 90 feet from home plate. Chase Hawkins took over on the mound at the start of the fifth frame, just in time to surrender a one-out single to Nidiffer, a two-out base hit to Wiley, and a two-RBI triple to Adams. Steve Esmonde came on in Hawkins’s stead, threw the wild pitch that plated another run, and coaxed a flyout from Neiko Johnson.
Down 9-4, the Classic City Canines mounted a comeback in the bottom of the inning. Four singles from the first five batters to stand in generated a pair of runs, and, after the visitors’ half of the sixth canto passed with but a two-out hit to show for it, Georgia came back up to bat and resumed its efforts to erase the deficit. An error allowed Verdin to reach first base, then Taylor sent a single into left field.
Following a one-out double steal, Cone plated a run with a groundout and Farmer drove in another with a double. A Kevin Ruiz base hit brought home the tying run. The top of the seventh stanza saw Kentucky go back out in front when a plunking, a walk, and a single loaded the bases with no outs. A Bisson single and a Wright groundout gave the Wildcats a two-run advantage.
The next two half-innings featured a lone baserunner for each team before the Diamond Dogs snarled the score once more in the bottom of the eighth frame. Cone led off with a home run. Farmer followed him around the basepaths, but he made his way in stages, carding a single, moving into scoring position on a wild pitch, taking third on a groundout, and scoring on a single.
Cooper Moseley was on the mound to open the ninth canto with the scoreboard deadlocked at eleven runs per side. Adams led off with a base hit and advanced two bases on as many outs. Once Wright was hit by a pitch, Glad smacked a three-run shot to left field to break the deadlock. Lance Ray flied out to bring the Bulldogs back up to the plate, but the Red and Black went quietly on a trio of groundouts.
Obviously, it was disappointing that the Athenians failed to get the sweep so they could end their season on a high note. Yet again, the pitching failed to come through. Michael Palazzone, despite striking out seven and walking only one, surrendered seven hits and six earned runs through four frames. In five innings’ worth of work, the bullpen did not record so much as a single strikeout while conceding nine hits and eight earned runs to the 28 batters the relievers faced. The Bat Cats notched five RBI with two outs against them, batted .500 with the bases loaded, and got the leadoff man aboard in six of nine stanzas.
On the plus side, the Diamond Dogs registered more hits (17-16), committed fewer errors (1-2), and twice tied the game after trailing. Zach Cone (3 for 5, 2 RBI), Brett DeLoach (3 of 5, 1 RBI), Kyle Farmer (3 for 5, 1 RBI), Robert Shipman (2 for 3, 2 RBI), and Johnathan Taylor (4 for 6, 1 RBI) all hit the ball well for the home team.
2010 still will be remembered as the worst baseball season in school history, of course, but the team started to show some signs of life in the final couple of weeks. It was too little, too late, but at least it added some redeeming features, however few, to a campaign that previously had appeared wholly lacking in any characteristics which were anything other than embarrassing and disheartening. A young team beset by injuries at long last offered some indication that it could play up to its abilities, and that (coupled with some essential changes) provides a measure of hope for next year in much the same manner that offseason events have given some reason to believe in the future of the football and men’s basketball teams.