Trailing an 0-3 ledger from the opening weekend of college baseball season, the Georgia Bulldogs hosted the Furman Paladins at Foley Field on Wednesday afternoon. In the first home game of the 2011 campaign, the Red and Black finally secured their initial victory of the spring by a 6-4 margin.
Junior southpaw Chase Hawkins drew the starting assignment for the Diamond Dogs, and, after surrendering a leadoff single to left fielder Will Owens, the Georgia hurler proceeded to retire the next three Paladins he faced. This opened the door for the Red and Black to get on the board first in the bottom of the opening inning when a pair of two-out singles with a wild pitch sandwiched between them permitted center fielder Zach Cone to cross home plate.
Furman answered in the top of the second stanza, starting with third baseman Kevin O’Leary’s leadoff single. Two of the next three visiting batters also registered base hits, enabling center fielder Heath Burton to bring home the tying run on an RBI groundout. The Paladins took the lead when a passed ball allowed right fielder Will Miller to score an unearned run.
The visitors extended their lead in the top of the third canto on a solo shot to left field by second baseman Will Muzika, but the Classic City Canines snarled the score anew in the home half of the inning. Shortstop Kyle Farmer opened with a base hit, and right fielder Chase Davidson brought him home with a one-out double. A single by first baseman Jonathan Hester put runners at the corners, so designated hitter Colby May was able to plate the tying run with a groundout to short. The contest proceeded to the fourth frame with the runs knotted at three per side and the Bulldogs holding a 7-5 edge in hits.
A Hawkins error produced a meaningless baserunner in the top of the canto, but the Red and Black went back on the attack in their turn at bat. Third baseman Curt Powell’s leadoff single, second baseman Levi Hyams’s one-out home run, and consecutive two-out base hits by Cone and Davidson drove Nate Smith from the mound and staked the host squad to a 6-3 lead. Furman went quietly when facing right-handed reliever John Herman in the visitors’ half of the fifth canto, and the ensuing six outs also were obtained uneventfully.
The bottom of the sixth stanza began with some sparks when Hyams led off with a base hit and swiped second. A Cone single put runners at the corners with one out, but the Georgia second baseman was picked off to end the scoring opportunity. Junior righty Cecil Tanner took over on the hill at the outset of the seventh inning, fanned the first Furman hitter he faced, and proceeded to walk three of the next four Paladins who stepped up to the plate.
With the go-ahead run now standing in the batter’s box, sophomore southpaw Blake Dieterich entered the game and persuaded pinch hitter Reese Wade to chase strike three and preserve the Diamond Dogs’ advantage. After the Athenians went three up and three down in their turn at the plate, Eric Swegman came in from the bullpen and surrendered a pair of one-out singles. One run scored on a fielder’s choice, but shortstop J.B. Jenkins was thrown out at home to keep the Diamond Dogs’ lead at 6-4.
The Classic City Canines again went in order in the bottom of the eighth inning, bringing Tyler Maloof to the mound to close out the contest. Two quick groundouts were followed by a Muzika walk, but a Wade strikeout ended the threat and the game. Georgia doubled up the Paladins in hits, 14-7.
On opening weekend, pitching was a large part of the problem. Tonight, starter Chase Hawkins worked four frames, conceding five hits (including a home run) yet surrendering no walks and only a pair of earned runs. Middle reliever John Herman worked two scoreless cantos without allowing a hit or a walk.
The four bases on balls given up by the bullpen in the last three innings were worrisome, and, likewise, there is cause to be concerned about the Bulldogs’ late-inning power outage. The Classic City Canines were held scoreless after the fourth frame and hitless after the sixth stanza, although the Athenians got solid production at the plate from Zach Cone (3 for 4), Chase Davidson (3 for 4, 3 RBI), Levi Hyams (2 for 5, 2 RBI), and Curt Powell (2 for 4).
In short, a two-run home win over nine random guys named "Will" did little to solve the problems that were evident in the Diamond Dogs’ 0-3 start, but at least there was a "W" in this Wednesday outing.