The Diamond Dogs' loss to the Seminoles on Saturday night put the Red and Black in much the same position occupied by defending national champion Texas . . . namely, needing a win to set up a rematch in the hopes of forcing a region-deciding seventh game.
Accordingly, Georgia took the field on Sunday afternoon to play an elimination game against the Atlantic Sun champion Jacksonville Dolphins, who not only won their conference title but also demonstrated that they are the only school aside from Georgia that can take proper care of a live mascot.
Nellie the Dolphin is over 50 years old, she received an unofficial diploma from Jacksonville University, and, unlike the cheerleader in a porpoise costume who wanders around the sidelines at sporting events, she is the official mascot of the J.U. Dolphins. (Photograph courtesy Jacksonville University Athletic Association.)
Sunday afternoon's action got underway with a Joey Side single in the opening inning's second at-bat. The Bulldog center fielder stole second and took third on a wild pitch, but his teammates were unable to bring him the final 90 feet home. The Dolphins went quietly in the bottom of the first frame, as Justin Young, Pete Clifford, and Gordie Gronkowski all struck out swinging.
The Georgia offense came to life in the top of the second stanza. Following a Bobby Felmy groundout to lead off the inning, Jason Jacobs and Kyle Keen registered doubles to give the Red and Black a 1-0 lead. Keen advanced to third base when Ryan Peisel recorded the second out, then Matthew Dunn and Jonathan Wyatt added base hits to pad the lead and keep the inning alive. A Side home run to center field concluded the scoring in the top of the frame, giving the Diamond Dogs a 5-0 advantage heading into the second half of the second inning.
A Matt Lopez single was all the Dolphins had to show for their efforts before the contest proceeded to the third frame. Keen drew a base on balls, but was caught stealing and picked off to prevent any further scoring from occurring. This left the door open for Jacksonville and the guest squad at Foley Field made the most of the opportunity.
With one out away in the bottom of the third frame, Logan James singled up the middle. With two outs away in the bottom of the third frame, Clifford singled to center field. Georgia's Nathan Moreau then gave up the fourth Dolphin hit of the afternoon, which, unfortunately, was a Gronkowski home run to left center field that plated a trio of runs.
Base hits by Logan and Clifford set up a three-run shot by the Dolphins' first baseman.
Finding themselves in a ballgame, the Bulldogs responded in kind. In the top of the fourth frame, Peisel drew a leadoff walk and Dunn laid down a base hit bunt. Wyatt's subsequent single loaded the bases and chased Jacksonville starter Matt Dobbins from the mound.
Dobbins was succeeded by Joey Wedner, who lasted all of five batters. Wedner gave up a triple to Side, surrendered a run-scoring sacrifice fly to Gordon Beckham, plunked Josh Morris, struck out Felmy, and hit Jacobs with a pitch before getting the hook. Keen singled off of Dolphin reliever Matt Davis, but Peisel fouled out to end the inning with the Diamond Dogs leading by a 9-3 margin.
Jacksonville would not go quietly, however, as the bottom of the fourth frame featured a Lopez single, followed by a Don Vickers home run to cut the Red and Black's lead to 9-5.
Your Georgia-Jacksonville score through four innings.
After the dramatics of the fourth inning, it probably was for the best that the fifth frame passed without any additional scoring, but the Bulldogs resumed work in the top of the sixth stanza, when a leadoff single by Beckham was turned into another run by Morris's ensuing triple to center field. Felmy thereafter singled to score Morris.
Moreau retired the side in short order in the bottom of the inning, so the contest proceeded to the seventh stanza, which began with a bang when Wyatt homered to right and Morris homered to left. Although a pair of outs were recorded in the interim, additional runs were scored when Felmy walked and Jacobs homered, giving the Bulldogs a 15-5 lead.
The score remained unchanged until the bottom of the eighth frame, when base hits by Clifford, Daniel Murphy, Mike McCallister, and Thomas LePage combined to tack a trio of Dolphin runs onto the scoreboard. Adam McDaniel came on in relief of Moreau in the bottom of the ninth inning and, despite surrendering a walk to Gronkowski, McDaniel managed to record three outs before conceding any additional runs.
The Diamond Dogs outhit the Dolphins by an 18-12 margin to claim a 15-8 victory and set up another showdown with the Seminoles for Sunday afternoon, with a chance to advance to the super-regionals on the line.
To be continued. . . .