There are no easy Saturdays in the Southeastern Conference. That statement largely is true in the autumn, but its accuracy is undeniable in the spring, as was confirmed by this afternoon's baseball game between Georgia and Auburn.
Maddeningly, the Diamond Dogs did not leap out to the same sort of early lead that they claimed in Friday evening's game, despite the best efforts of leadoff hitter Jonathan Wyatt. In the top of the first inning, the Red and Black left fielder opened the contest with a single, stole second, and advanced to third on a passed ball, but never made it as far as home plate. In spite of a single by Luke Greinke on an 0-2 pitch from Brooks Brown, the Tigers failed to score in the initial frame, as well.
A solo shot to left field by Jason Jacobs got the Bulldogs on the board in the top of the second stanza, but, when Georgia went quietly in the ensuing inning, it opened the door for the Plainsmen to even the score in the bottom of the third. Derek Sain started things off with a single, then Tyler Johnstone followed suit.
Greinke thereafter drew a base on balls to load the bases for Mike Bianucci, who lined out on an 0-2 pitch, leaving it up to Andy Bennett to record the base hit that tied the game. Josh Donaldson grounded into a double play to prevent additional Auburn runs from crossing the plate.
Bianucci went down in flames, going 0 for 4 and underestimating young Vito Corleone.
Georgia had nothing to show for the top of the fourth frame, which put the home team in position to claim the lead later in the inning when Jeff Boutwell reached base on a fielding error and Justin Bristow doubled down the left field line to bring him home.
The Tigers thus carried a 2-1 lead into the fifth inning, in which the Red and Black at long last decided to assert themselves offensively. Jacobs walked and stole second after Matt Robbins's plate appearance failed to advance the Bulldog catcher. Ryan Peisel also drew a base on balls, whereupon Matthew Dunn reached first on a fielder's choice that sent Jacobs back to the dugout.
Wyatt punched in a single to move everyone up and Joey Side took advantage of a War Eagle throwing error to take first base and plate a pair of runs which, though unearned, nevertheless counted and sent the contest to the bottom of the fifth inning with the Diamond Dogs holding a 3-2 advantage.
When Georgia overcomes a deficit, Dawg Sports readers get a Mary-Louise Parker picture. That only seems fair, doesn't it?
The sixth stanza got underway when Josh Morris singled and, furthering the tendency towards aggressive baserunning exhibited by the Bulldogs in this outing, stole second. Bobby Felmy's subsequent single moved the Georgia first baseman over to third and another Auburn error allowed Morris to score.
The Red and Black maintained their 4-2 lead heading into the bottom half of the seventh inning, when the Plainsmen made it known that they did not intend to go quietly. Johnstone walked, stole second base, and advanced to third on a Greinke single.
After Bianucci struck out, Brown was succeeded on the mound by Rip Warren, who took over the pitching duties with the hitting snarled at seven per side and the tying run in the batter's box. Warren retired Bennett in short order, throwing three strikes and no balls to the Auburn first baseman.
Donaldson knocked through a base hit and a throwing error on the play allowed Johnstone to score. Russell Dixon then flied out to end the inning and squelch the threat, but the home team had pulled to within one run of the visitors.
This is what it's like watching the seventh inning of a Georgia baseball game.
The Plainsmen changed pitchers at the outset of the eighth inning and new Tiger hurler Johnny Thompson struck Morris with his first pitch and allowed the Georgia first baseman to advance on a passed ball. Three straight strikeouts left Morris stranded in scoring position and Warren retired the side in the bottom of the inning on a Boutwell flyout, a Bristow groundout, and a Sain lineout.
No Bulldog reached base in the top of the ninth frame, so the contest once again came down to the home half of the final stanza with the outcome quite clearly in question. Warren walked Johnstone on four straight pitches and, after Greinke's sacrifice bunt moved the War Eagle second baseman to his accustomed position, Joshua Fields come on to close out the game.
Fields initially did my nerves no favors, throwing a single strike and four balls to Bianucci to put the winning run aboard. Although the Diamond Dog closer induced Bennett to fly out to short on the first pitch thrown to him, I remained fretful when Donaldson stood in with the opportunity to send the game to extra innings . . . or worse.
This is what it's like watching the ninth inning of a Georgia baseball game.
The stage had been set for a dramatic duel between pitcher and batter. Fields, frankly, deviated from the script, but I was grateful to him for the lack of fanfare with which he performed his assigned task. Fields threw three pitches Donaldson's way. All were strikes and the last one caught the Auburn catcher looking, giving the Georgia closer his 12th save and the Diamond Dogs their 10th victory in a row.
The series-clinching win on the Plains put the Red and Black in a position to go for the sweep on Sunday, with the hope of playing for still higher stakes against Kentucky next weekend. As usual, the contest contained more than its fair share of anxious moments, but, in the end, the Bulldogs came away with yet another win and made a compelling statement to silence whatever doubts might have lingered regarding the talent, resilience, and heart of this most impressive Georgia team.