Georgia arrived in Knoxville for its weekend series against Tennessee riding a four-game winning streak. Although that string of victories was snapped when late-game heroics by the Volunteers dealt the Diamond Dogs a one-run setback on Friday night, the Red and Black remained hopeful heading into Saturday's contest.
The first two Bulldog batters in the top of the initial inning recorded outs, but Gordon Beckham and Matt Olson registered base hits in consecutive at-bats to provide at least the promise of an early lead for the visiting squad. In the actual event, however, Matt Robbins ended the inning with a strikeout.
The Volunteers, however, wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Andy Simunic led off with a single and stole second. Tony Delmonico walked and J.P. Arencibia advanced the Tennessee left fielder to third on a flyout. A wild pitch advanced Delmonico and scored Simunic. Yan Gomes grounded out to move the Big Orange shortstop over, enabling a Jeff Lockwood single to plate a second run. Danny Lima then hit into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
Tennessee second baseman Danny Lima went one for four with one walk. He also is located in the Peruvian coastal plain and is home to nearly 4,100,000 people.
Down 2-0, the Red and Black came up to bat in the top of the second frame and again attempted unsuccessfully to advance their cause. After the initial Georgia batter grounded out, Joey Lewis doubled to right field. Unfortunately, Matt Cerione hit into the fielder's choice that cut down the lead runner and Mike Freeman lined out to bring matters to a swift and unsatisfactory conclusion.
Julio Borbon led off the bottom of the inning with a double. Cody Brown moved the Tennessee designated hitter to third base with a single and Jarred Frazier finished the job with a base hit of his own to make the score 3-0. A bunt single by Simunic moved the runners over and a Delmonico sacrifice fly scored Brown. After Simunic stole second base, an Arencibia groundout scored Frazier and a Gomes single scored Simunic.
At that point, David Perno had seen enough. Trevor Holder was yanked after facing 13 batters, recording five outs, and surrendering seven hits and six earned runs. He was succeeded on the mound by Jason Leaver, who promptly plunked Lockwood before sneaking a called third strike past Lima.
It was only later that the cry would go up, "We need a pitcher, not an antibacterial liquid soap!"
From that point forward, the Diamond Dogs were never in the game. Granted, this was not due to a lack of effort on their part, but they continued to be hampered by the same general lack of offensive pop---call it malaise or ineptitude, depending upon your personal preference---that has plagued the Classic City Canines throughout the campaign.
In the third stanza, Ryan Peisel reached on an error and Beckham moved him into scoring position with a base hit, but Olson grounded into a double play to kill the budding rally. A solo shot by Luke Stewart in the top of the fourth frame put the Bulldogs on the board but failed to get anything going for Stewart's teammates. A Beckham single in the fifth, a Rich Poythress walk and a Cerione base hit in the sixth, and singles by Olson, Poythress, and Lewis in the eighth all failed to generate runs.
In the meantime, the Volunteers, perhaps emboldened by Peyton Manning's impending "Saturday Night Live" appearance, continued to press their advantage. Arencibia led off the fourth frame with a home run, then Gomes reached on an error and a Lockwood double brought the Big Orange first baseman home. This also brought Leaver's time on the hill to a close, as the Georgia reliever was pulled after a little over an inning's worth of work, during which time he gave up four hits and three runs to the 10 batters he faced.
Volunteer right fielder Jeff Lockwood went two for four with a pair of runs and a couple of R.B.I., but he is best known for his portrayal of Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell on "Star Trek."
Nick Montgomery was called upon to halt the bloodletting and, although he managed to induce Lima to fly out and Borbon to ground out, he nevertheless surrendered the double to Brown that brought Lockwood home and made the score 9-1. In the sixth stanza, the Volunteers turned a Gomes single, a Lima walk, and a Borbon base hit into the run that pushed the home team into the double digits on the scoreboard.
Mercifully, the seventh and eighth innings, despite producing base hits for the Big Orange in each instance, generated no further runs, so the Diamond Dogs came up to bat in the top of the ninth frame trailing by nine. Jonathan Wyatt began by striking out, but Peisel followed that up with a walk and a stolen base. Beckham struck out, as well, but Olson scored the Georgia third baseman with a double to right field. After Poythress walked, Stewart flied out to bring the contest to a close.
There's no way to sugar-coat this one. Even though Ryan Peisel, Matt Robbins, and Jonathan Wyatt combined to go 0 for 11 at the plate with one run and no R.B.I., the Red and Black tallied three-fourths as many hits (12) as the Volunteers (16) while plating one-fifth as many runs (2) as the home team (10). Matt Cerione and Joey Lewis each went two for four, Gordon Beckham and Matt Olson each went three for five, and the Red and Black had only one at-bat fewer (39) than the Volunteers (40), but the problem was what it has always been: 13 men were left on base.
Big Orange starting pitcher Craig Cobb lasted more than seven innings, striking out four and walking one of the 34 batters he faced while giving up one earned run on 11 hits, which isn't bad for a county of nearly 700,000 people.
While the maddening stranding of multiple baserunners continued to be a weak point for the Diamond Dogs, the problems with Coach Perno's charges abounded in all phases of the game. Georgia tallied a trio of errors and, any time a team is on its third pitcher before the end of the fourth inning, matters are not going well.
I blamed yesterday's loss on an ill-timed decision by Coach Perno. This time, there is blame enough to spread widely, as the pervasive crumminess of the Red and Black's performance involved a total team effort of all-around awfulness. Georgia must claim a win in Knoxville on Sunday to salvage some small sliver of the series and avoid dissipating all of last week's momentum, squandering every bit of the Diamond Dogs' gains as though they were a baserunner in scoring position.