After taking the weekend series that left LSU fans unhappy and Georgia a game out of first place in the East, the Diamond Dogs traveled to Clemson, S.C., to renew their rivalry with the Country Gentlemen in a game I attended last year. In a clash with the now-unranked Fort Hill Felines that featured the top two teams in college baseball in terms of schedule strength, the Classic City Canines came up short in an 11-5 outing.
Georgia wasted no time leaping out to an early lead, however. Second baseman Levi Hyams began the visitors’ half of the first inning by drawing a leadoff walk from starting pitcher Justin Sarratt, who came into the contest sporting a 1.35 ERA despite spending much of the year traveling through Yoknatawpha County selling sewing machines. Left fielder Conor Welton put two baserunners in scoring position with a double, enabling center fielder Zach Cone to score an earned run on a one-out base hit through the left side and permitting an unearned run to cross home plate on a Sarratt throwing error.
A first-pitch single to start the bottom of the canto was negated by a first-pitch double play grounder, allowing Chase Hawkins to escape the opening frame unscathed, and the Red and Black went back on the attack to begin the second stanza. Catcher Brandon Stephens got things going by sending Sarratt’s first pitch into center field for a double. Once right fielder Peter Verdin put down the bunt that sacrificed the baserunner over to third, Welton punched a single through the left side to make the score 3-0.
Clemson answered in the home half of the inning, loading the bases on a pair of singles with a walk sandwiched in between. Although a sacrifice fly scored one run, Hawkins extracted a double play groundout to get out of the jam. Both teams left men aboard in a scoreless third canto, but a one-out walk, a baserunner-advancing groundout, and an RBI single permitted the Classic City Canines to tack on an extra run in the top of the fourth frame. Reliever Ben Cornwell retired the side in the bottom of the inning.
Although the Bulldogs went three up and three down in the top of the fifth frame, everything was looking good for the guests at the midpoint until the Tigers cut the deficit to two in both runs (4-2) and hits (7-5) with center fielder Chris Epps’s home run to lead off the home half of the canto. Cornwell proceeded to walk a pair of batters on 3-2 pitches before surrendering the two-out single that loaded the bases and prompted a call to the bullpen. John Herman elicited the foulout that stranded three and ended the threat.
After the Red and Black stranded two in the top of the sixth stanza, Patrick Boling took over on the mound in the bottom of the canto and, in a Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn-like performance, proceeded to walk all four of the batters he faced. This left Georgia leading by one in runs (4-3) as well as hits (7-6), but, when Eric Swegman came on and surrendered a sacrifice fly to center field, the game was tied. When a two-out walk again loaded the bases, Swegman plunked right fielder Phil Pohl to force home the go-ahead run, then surrendered the first-pitch grand slam to infielder Richie Shaffer that broke the game open. Designated hitter Brad Miller turned Swegman’s next throw to home plate into a double, adding insult to injury by giving the Country Gentlemen an 8-7 lead in hits to go with their 9-4 lead in runs.
From there, it largely was a matter of playing out the string. Cone led off the seventh frame with a double, took third on a wild pitch, and came home on a groundout, but the Jungaleers answered in the home half of the canto on a leadoff walk, a single, a sacrifice bunt, and a sacrifice fly. The Bulldogs squandered a couple of singles in the eighth inning, in which the Orange and Purple turned a walk, a stolen base, and a single into an insurance run. Designated hitter Chase Davidson’s one-out double in the top of the ninth stanza came to naught when back-to-back groundouts followed.
The storyline of this game followed a familiar pattern for the Diamond Dogs: Clemson carded its 100th series win in the Tigers’ 111-year-old rivalry with Georgia because the Red and Black held a 4-1 lead after four frames but were outscored 10-1 in the final five cantos. The Athenians’ eleven hits included four that went for extra bases, but the Classic City Canines stranded two baserunners each in the first, third, sixth, and eighth innings. That, coupled with a pitching performance in which the Georgia staff surrendered ten walks while carding only two strikeouts, was how the Diamond Dogs managed to drop a six-run decision in which the Red and Black committed no errors and matched their hosts hit for hit.