The Diamond Dogs traveled to the so-called Loveliest Village for a baseball series between two teams that are better than their records. In an important three-game SEC showdown, Georgia fell in extra innings on Friday, suffered a shutout setback on Saturday, and salvaged the series with an amazing comeback win on Sunday.
Friday night’s pitcher’s duel between Auburn’s Jon Luke Jacobs and Georgia’s Alex Wood was tied at two after seven stanzas. The Tigers tallied a second-inning run on a leadoff double followed by a pair of baserunner-advancing groundouts, then the Orange and Blue added another run in the sixth canto on four straight singles. The Bulldogs also had a couple of one-run innings, thanks to a leadoff single and an RBI double in the third stanza and a two-out solo home run in the fourth frame.
After the Athenians squandered a one-out double in the top of the eighth canto, Auburn loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning on a one-out single, an ensuing hit batsman, and a two-out walk, but reliever Blake Dieterich elicited a flyout from the next Tiger batter. A two-out double went to waste in the top of the ninth stanza, and the would-be winning run was thrown out at home in the bottom of the frame.
The Red and Black went three up and three down in the top of the tenth canto, then Tyler Maloof took over on the hill and issued walks to two of the first three Plainsmen he faced before extracting outs from the next two Alabamians. This enabled first baseman Jonathan Hester to break the deadlock with a two-out solo home run in the eleventh inning, but Auburn came back in the bottom of the frame by loading the bases with two singles and a walk, thereby permitting the home team to bring home the tying and winning runs on a base hit.
Saturday afternoon saw two more stellar performances by the respective clubs’ starting pitchers. The Bulldogs’ Michael Palazzone lasted seven stanzas, striking out seven and walking one while conceding six hits and two earned runs. That was not enough to earn him the victory, however, as the Tigers’ Derek Varnadore threw a complete-game five-hit shutout.
Auburn used two singles, a double, and a sacrifice fly to take a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth frame. The Plainsmen tacked on an insurance run in the eighth inning, but that additional score proved superfluous, as the Athenians stranded seven baserunners and were held to five hits in the outing that assured a series loss.
The sweep appeared virtually certain after the opening inning on Sunday. The Tigers forced starter Craig Gullickson from the game with an eight-hit, eight-run first frame to take a commanding early lead. The Classic City Canines chipped away at the home team’s advantage with a run in the fourth canto, three more in the sixth stanza, and another one in the eighth inning, but Auburn added an individual insurance run in each of the fifth, seventh, and eighth frames.
Trailing 11-5, the Diamond Dogs came up to bat in the top of the ninth canto needing some late heroics to avoid the setback that would strand them at 24-24 overall and place their postseason prospects in serious jeopardy. Pinch hitter Lance Martin and shortstop Kyle Farmer drew walks to open the inning, and designated hitter Chase Davidson plated three with a one-out home run. The Red and Black then loaded the bases on a walk, a hit batsman, and a single, enabling right fielder Kevin Ruiz and second baseman Levi Hyams to force home two more runs with back-to-back bases on balls. Farmer’s ensuing two-out grand slam made it 14-11 for the visitors, and the Athenians held on for the critical victory.
While the series loss to a despised rival was regrettable, the comeback win salvaged the weekend. By the close of business on Mothers Day, Georgia (25-23) was a half-game behind Auburn (25-22) overall and sitting on a 14-10 conference record with six SEC contests to go.