Although the Eastern Division crown was decided when Kentucky beat Georgia on Friday, the Diamond Dogs had much left to play for in Saturday's regular season finale against the Bat Cats at Foley Field.
Nathan Moreau's day did not get off to the most promising start, as the Wildcats' leadoff hitter, Antone DeJesus, reached base on an error to begin the game and Ryan Strieby walked. Fortunately, although DeJesus advanced as far as third base, neither he nor any other U.K. player crossed home plate.
The same could not be said with regard to the Bulldogs in the bottom of the inning, though. Jonathan Wyatt got things going with a single down the left field line and the Georgia outfielder took second on a Gordon Beckham groundout. After a Kentucky error put Josh Morris aboard, Bobby Felmy parked a base hit in center field to plate an unearned run, giving the home team an early 1-0 lead.
The second stanza was not without its dramatics, as Michael Bertram opened the inning with a single to left field and moved into scoring position on a Justin Scutchfield sacrifice bunt, but the score remained unchanged heading into the third frame. Once again, the Bat Cats threatened, as DeJesus led off with a base hit, but it was still a 1-0 ballgame when the contest went to the bottom of the third.
It did not remain that way for long, however. Wyatt singled to right, then Joey Side singled up the middle. Beckham's sacrifice bunt moved the runners over and, after Morris drew a free pass to first base, Felmy and Jason Jacobs each reached on fielder's choices, earning an R.B.I. apiece to give the Red and Black a 3-0 advantage.
Undaunted, the Wildcats commenced the fourth frame with a Bertram single up the middle, but neither that nor a subsequent base hit by Ryan Wilkes succeeded in erasing the goose egg on the scoreboard. Base hits by Ryan Peisel and Wyatt in the bottom of the inning likewise produced no additional runs.
In lieu of the seventh inning stretch, Dawg Sports presents the fourth inning photograph of Catherine Zeta-Jones. Honestly, this is a lot better than hearing Harry Caray warble his way through "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," isn't it?
When Moreau surrendered bases on balls to DeJesus and Strieby in the top of the fifth, Rip Warren succeeded the Bulldog starter on the mound and got the home team out of the inning. Georgia went quietly in the bottom of the fifth, as Beckham, Morris, and Felmy grounded out in succession.
Bertram singled up the middle to start the sixth stanza, but it came to naught and the Diamond Dogs went back to work. Consecutive two-out singles by Peisel, Matthew Dunn, and Wyatt chased U.K. starter Greg Dombrowski from the game and plated an insurance run to widen the margin to 4-0.
DeJesus walked in the seventh inning but advanced no farther than first base and a Beckham triple in the bottom of the same frame failed to pad the Georgia lead. Bertram drew a walk in the eighth inning, which hastened Joshua Fields's arrival on the mound but ultimately had no impact which registered on the scoreboard.
Kentucky used three pitchers in the bottom of the eighth inning and succeeded in preventing any additional runs from being scored by the Bulldogs. The Bat Cats showed some life in the top of the ninth, as Shaun Lehmann put a double into left field, but Fields induced the other three U.K. batters of the inning to ground out, strike out, and pop up, respectively, rendering the scheduled second half of the final frame superfluous.
Joshua Fields is money . . . except to the extent that saying so might affect adversely his amateur eligibility, of course. (Photograph courtesy University of Georgia Athletic Association.)
Over the course of the afternoon, the Diamond Dogs outhit the visiting team, 10-7, despite Bertram's three-for-three performance at the plate. Wyatt had a fine day for the Red and Black, registering four hits in five at-bats and scoring a pair of runs. The Georgia pitching staff posted its seventh shutout of the season, tying a longstanding school record in the process.
Despite the series win over S.E.C. co-champion Kentucky, the Bulldogs fell one win shy of tying for the division title; at 18-12 in conference play, Georgia finished in second place in the East, ending up two games behind the league-leading Wildcats (20-10) yet heading into postseason play with a 3-0 record in neutral site contests and an S.E.C.-best 9-1 record in the Classic City Canines' last 10 outings.
The Red and Black earned a No. 3 seed in the double-elimination conference tournament and the Diamond Dogs will face sixth-seeded Vanderbilt on May 24. With a win next Wednesday, Georgia would advance to face the victor in the opening round matchup between Kentucky and South Carolina.
Will the hot streak continue as the Red and Black head into the S.E.C. tourney? We shall see . . . but, for now, let us take the time to enjoy the moment and to salute the Diamond Dogs, who redeemed a season that once appeared lost and have a chance to accomplish something special in the postseason.