Friday night’s SEC series opener pitted the Diamond Dogs’ Alex Wood against the hated Gators’ Jonathon Crawford. The Floridian fanned two in four and one-third frames, conceding six hits but no walks and only one run, while the Athenian went eight innings and allowed as many hits, striking out seven and giving up just two runs. The low-scoring duel extended into the wee hours before a throwing error on a routine play spoiled a solid outing.
The pitching aces produced a pair of scoreless stanzas to start the game, though the Orange and Blue used a leadoff single, a sacrifice bunt, a walk, and a baserunner-advancing groundout to put two men in scoring position in the bottom of the first frame before Wood persuaded the next Gator batter to chase strike three.
Florida hit into threat-squelching double plays in the second and third cantos, but, in between, the Red and Black drew first blood. Second baseman Levi Hyams led off the top of the third inning with a base hit through the right side. After first baseman Colby May flied out and Hyams was picked off, third baseman Curt Powell drove a double down the right field line, then center fielder Peter Verdin brought him home with a single.
The Gators tied it up in the bottom of the fourth frame on a leadoff double and an RBI single, but Wood pitched out of the jam. With one out away and runners on first and second, the Georgia starter fanned the next two Orange and Blue batters. The Classic City Canines had a golden opportunity to reclaim the lead in the top of the fifth canto when a Hyams single, a Powell single, and a Verdin plunking loaded the bases with one out, but a Florida pitching switch produced a pair of outs while preventing any runs.
This left the door open for the Sunshine State Saurians, and they barged right through it in the bottom of the stanza. Beginning the inning with back-to-back base hits, the Orange and Blue used a baserunner-advancing foulout and a run-scoring flyout to take a 2-1 lead. Wood picked off the remaining runner to halt the bloodletting, however. The sixth canto saw Georgia put two aboard with no outs, only to follow up that solid start with a strikeout, a foulout, and a pop-up.
The pitching remained wholly dominant until catcher Brett DeLoach turned a payoff pitch into a triple in the top of the eighth frame. Left fielder Conor Welton’s ensuing single brought him home to tie the score, and Wood preserved the deadlock by extracting a first-pitch fielder’s choice from a Floridian with two on and two out in the home half of the stanza.
A scoreless ninth canto sent the contest to extra innings, and a strikeout by reliever Bryan Benzor with two Gators in scoring position in the bottom of the tenth frame caused the contest to continue. A couple of two-out singles by Powell and Verdin in the top of the eleventh stanza were squandered when designated hitter Nelson Ward looked at a called third strike, and a first-pitch leadoff single by shortstop Kyle Farmer in the top of the twelfth likewise went to waste when the next three Bulldog batters recorded three outs without advancing the runner past second base.
A one-out single followed by a walk threatened to end the game in the bottom of the 13th frame, but right fielder Kevin Ruiz gunned down a pinch runner at home plate on the ensuing base hit to preserve the tie. First baseman Jonathan Hester was plunked with one out away in the top of the 16th stanza, and a Powell groundout moved him into scoring position, but Verdin went down swinging on a 3-2 count to leave him there.
A one-out walk in the home half of the canto brought Blake Dieterich to the mound. A sacrifice bunt advanced the baserunner to second, then a wild pitch moved him over to third. Dieterich persuaded the Gator at the plate to swing at strike three, but the batter reached base on the throwing error by catcher Brandon Stephens that allowed an unearned run to win the game.
This ending was as bad as it realistically could have been. Georgia used six pitchers, half of whom went at least two innings, and the Red and Black combined for 60 at-bats, 13 strikeouts, and exactly zero walks. Rather than being merely an ordinary loss, this one was extraordinarily physically debilitating and psychologically devastating . . . and it wasted eight strong innings by our best starting pitcher. Frankly, at this point, a weekend sweep is virtually assured.