Thanks to inclement weather, last night’s baseball series opener was postponed, becoming instead the first outing of a Saturday doubleheader that turned out to be a thriller in both the first and second acts. In back-to-back battles between top 25 teams, No. 10 Kentucky and No. 25 Georgia split a pair of one-run decisions in which the contestants tallied equal numbers of hits in contrasting fashion, as the Red and Black spread out their scoring over the course of a contest and the Blue and White relied on long balls and big innings.
Georgia scored first in the opening outing, using a pair of singles and a two-out triple to score two runs in the home half of the second stanza. The Classic City Canines extended their lead to 3-0 on a two-out solo home run smacked to center field by left fielder Hunter Cole in the third canto. The sixth inning saw that advantage upped to 6-0 when four straight one-out singles plated a run and left the bases loaded for center fielder Conor Welton, who drew the walk that forced home a run. A sacrifice fly by right fielder Peter Verdin pushed another score across the plate.
The Wildcats, who came into the game sporting a 25-1 record, got it all back in the top of the seventh frame. Back-to-back one-out base hits and an error by first baseman Colby May got Kentucky on the board, then a third straight single set the stage for Blue and White center fielder Austin Cousino to plate three with a home run to right field. That ended starter Alex Wood’s stay on the mound after six and one-third innings of a seven-hit, five-strikeout, two-walk performance.
Reliever Bryan Benzor gave up a pair of two-out singles and a run-scoring double before throwing the wild pitch that brought home the tying run. However, the Athenians wasted no time in reclaiming the lead in their turn at the plate, as third baseman Curt Powell drew a leadoff walk and catcher Brett DeLoach brought him the rest of the way around with a two-out double. Closer Blake Dieterich set down the visitors in sequence in the eighth inning and erased Cousino’s leadoff single in the ninth canto by coaxing a double-play ball from the final Kentucky batter to conclude a one-run victory.
The second game saw Georgia start out by generating one run at a time. A leadoff single and a two-out double in the first frame made it 1-0, a leadoff double and a one-out single in the second stanza made it 2-0, and a trio of base hits in the third inning made it 3-0. Nevertheless, the Bluegrass State Bobcats took the lead in the visitors’ half of the fourth canto, loading the bases on three straight singles and bringing home four runs on a walk and a bases-clearing double.
The Red and Black answered in the bottom of the inning, knotting the score with a one-out base hit, a follow-up walk, and a two-out RBI single. Kentucky went back out in front with a single swing in the fifth frame, as Blue and White third baseman Thomas McCarthy turned a Chase Hawkins pitch into a leadoff homer to make the score 5-4. The Bulldogs went up, 6-5, in the home half of the sixth stanza, starting with two walks that turned into two runs on a base hit, a wild pitch, and a fielder’s choice.
The Bat Cats held serve in the seventh frame, in which Cousino led off with a base on balls and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch before a two-out single and a two-RBI home run put the visitors ahead, 8-6. Undaunted, the Classic City Canines used a leadoff triple and a sacrifice fly to pull within one in the bottom of the canto. A leadoff double, a Benzor wild pitch, and an ensuing single in the top of the eighth frame allowed Kentucky to go up by two anew, but the Diamond Dogs again narrowed the gap in the home half of the inning by taking advantage of the Wildcat error that allowed a Welton double to bring home an unearned run.
Another Blue and White error put a Bulldog baserunner aboard in the bottom of the ninth stanza to bring the would-be winning run to the plate with two outs away. Cole hit into the fielder’s choice that sealed a one-run setback, setting up a rubber game on Sunday. It is frustrating to know the Red and Black could have clinched the series with a sweep on Saturday, but it is gratifying to know that the Bulldogs’ bats finally are starting to come to life. Over the course of doubleheader, Georgia carded 25 hits (including four doubles, two triples, and a home run) while drawing six walks, driving in 15 runs, and scoring in 11 of 17 innings. Apart from the team’s 13 strikeouts, the Classic City Canines had a good day at the plate. They just need to figure out how to combine a good day at the plate with a good day in the field (the Diamond Dogs committed a pair of errors) and a good day on the mound (25 hits and 15 earned runs were allowed by the Red and Black pitching staff).