On Tuesday night, the Classic City Canines and the Fort Hill Felines met on the diamond for the 221st time in a baseball series dating back to 1900, making 2012 the 54th consecutive season in which the two teams squared off at least once in the intercollegiate version of the national pastime, which also is Georgia’s oldest varsity sport. Against the team with whom the Tigers have tangled more often than any other except South Carolina, Clemson won its fifth straight series meeting in tonight’s tilt at Foley Field, which was significant enough to be attended by David Ching, Sanders Commings, Tyler Dawgden, Ben Jones, John Lilly, and Kirk Olivadotti.
Red and Black starter David Sosebee carried a no-hitter into the top of the first inning, but the Jungaleers’ leadoff hitter dropped a single into center field. A pair of flyouts later, a base hit, an error by left fielder Hunter Cole, and a walk put three aboard for Orange and Purple catcher Spencer Kieboom, who drew the base on balls that forced home a run.
The Diamond Dogs were similarly opportunistic in the bottom of the first frame. Second baseman Levi Hyams and center fielder Nelson Ward opened the proceedings with consecutive singles, and, after shortstop Kyle Farmer grounded into the double play that left a lone baserunner on second base, a pair of wild pitches enabled Ward to score the tying run. Cole and designated hitter Brett DeLoach drew back-to-back bases on balls before first baseman Colby May brought them both home with a double.
The visitors’ half of the second stanza became the third half-inning in a row to open with a base hit, and Clemson center fielder Tyler Slaton followed that up with a second straight single. After Sosebee persuaded Tiger second baseman Steve Wilkerson to hit into the fielder’s choice that cut down Jungaleer left fielder Jay Baum on his way to third, Luke Crumley took over on the mound and proceeded to coax a groundout from Orange and Purple shortstop Jason Stolz, throw the wild pitch that scored Slaton, and surrender a two-RBI go-ahead home run to Clemson third baseman Richie Shaffer before extracting a lineout from the next Country Gentleman to step into the batter’s box.
After the Athenians went in order in the bottom of the canto, Crumley retired the first two batters he faced in the top of the third frame before loading the bases on two walks with a single sandwiched between them. The Georgia reliever struck out Wilkerson to keep the deficit at one, but the Bulldogs failed to take advantage of the chance they were afforded, failing even to produce a baserunner in their turn at the plate.
Earl Daniels took over on the hill at the outset of the fourth inning. He fanned the first batter he faced, but Shaffer reached on an error by third baseman Curt Powell and advanced to second base. Tiger designated hitter Phil Pohl was thrown out at third after a base hit and another Cole miscue while Shaffer scored an unearned run. The Jungaleers’ turn at the plate ended with a strikeout, but the visitors had scored five runs on seven hits, while their hosts had three runs, three hits, and three errors.
A one-out single followed by a walk brought the would-be go-ahead run to the plate in the home half of the fourth stanza, but consecutive strikeouts stranded a pair of baserunners. The fifth frame saw Kieboom draw a leadoff walk, take second on a groundout, take third on another groundout, and come home on a single. Georgia went three up and three down.
The top of the sixth stanza was Ross Ripple’s to pitch, and he conceded a pair of one-out base hits, a groundout that advanced both baserunners, and a single that scored two. The Red and Black at long last responded in the bottom of the inning, with a leadoff home run by Cole and an ensuing single by DeLoach to force a Tiger pitching change with the home team having exactly half as many hits (12-6) and runs (8-4) as their guests. The Diamond Dogs’ next two outs advanced DeLoach two bases, but pinch hitter Jared Walsh went down swinging to leave him there.
The seventh frame saw a return to form, as Chase Hawkins set down the first two batters he faced, then, on cue, the scoring began with two outs down: Stolz sent a single into right field, and Shaffer brought him home with a double. A pair of pinch hitters offered nothing but outs in the bottom of the canto.
Taylor Hicks became the sixth Bulldog hurler of the evening, and he gave up a leadoff single to get the upper half of the eighth inning underway. A passed ball put the runner in scoring position, a Kieboom groundout moved him over to third, and a sacrifice fly scored an unearned run with---you guessed it---two outs away in the inning. Neither team scored in its next turn at the plate, but the Red and Black loaded the bases on a pair of singles and a hit batsman with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, thereby allowing a final superfluous run to be scored on a balk.
Both starters’ pitches were up in the zone, but Sosebee lasted only an inning and a third, whereas the Tigers’ Daniel Gossett made it into the sixth stanza. Georgia used eight pitchers in the course of the night, of whom seven surrendered at least one hit, six conceded at least one run, and five gave up at least one earned run.
More so than most, this outing called upon both teams to “finish the drill”---14 of the contest’s 15 runs, including each of first eleven, were scored with two outs away in the inning, for crying out loud---but a Red and Black lineup that carded three hits and drew two walks in the opening canto managed just one hit and one base on balls in the next four frames. Clemson, which has not heretofore been an offensive juggernaut, pounded out ten runs on 16 hits, with half a dozen batters carding multi-hit games. Only two Bulldog batters notched more than one hit, and none managed more than two. While the Fort Hill Felines scored in seven stanzas, the Classic City Canines went three up and three down in five frames . . . and all that is without even mentioning the Athenians’ three errors of the evening.
Since opening the season on an 8-0 run against a series of weak sisters you likely could not locate on a map, the Diamond Dogs have gone 9-9 in their last 18 games, dropping four of their last six. With six of Georgia’s next seven weekend series set to pit the Red and Black against teams ranked in the top 16, the prospects for a turnaround are not good, and one need not necessarily be a member of the “#FireErrebody” brigade to wonder whether David Perno has done all the meaningful winning he is ever going to do for his alma mater.