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Kennesaw State 3, Georgia 2

The Diamond Dogs, mired in a slump and needing a win in the worst way, welcomed Kennesaw State to Foley Field on Wednesday evening for what may have been the low point of the season thus far.

Georgia's reliable closer, Joshua Fields, got his first career start against the Owls and he began by giving up a walk to Jacob Robbins. Martin Baker sacrificed the K.S.U. shortstop over to second, then Matt Dallas drew a base on balls, as well. Jay Morrow's ensuing groundout to the pitcher moved the runners over, but Fields coaxed Adam Cross into swinging at strike three to end the top of the first frame with the score still knotted and nothing-nothing.

The home half of the initial inning went true to form for the Red and Black, whose erratic offensive performance largely has been leavened only by the presence of Jonathan Wyatt. Travis Parrott and Ryan Peisel recorded outs in the team's first two at-bats, leaving it to Wyatt to draw a walk, steal second, and take third on a balk before Gordon Beckham flied out to leave the Georgia center fielder stranded 90 feet from home plate.

Fields looked more like his usual self at the start of the second stanza, retiring the first three batters he faced on a strikeout and a pair of groundouts to the middle infielders, then the Diamond Dogs undertook to do something about their scoring shortcomings in the bottom of the frame.

Kennesaw State third baseman Matt Dallas went one for four at the plate and scored a run. He also was my favorite character from "Bloom County."

Matt Olson led off with a promising single to center field and, after Joey Lewis flied out to that selfsame spot, Luke Stewart registered a base hit of his own to move the Bulldog right fielder over to third. Unfortunately, Matt Robbins and Mike Freeman each hit balls that the Kennesaw State second baseman was able to transform into outs, so the home team once again squandered a scoring opportunity and proved unable to bring a run home from third base.

The third inning got underway with a pitching change for the Diamond Dogs. After facing eight batters in two innings' worth of work, Fields was pulled after striking out two, walking two, and surrendering neither a hit nor a run. Steve Esmonde stepped forward to take his place, extracting a flyout from Tyler Stubblefield and inducing Robbins to ground out before surrendering a single to Baker which was nullified when Dallas hit into a fielder's choice.

In the bottom of the third stanza, the Red and Black again endeavored to get something going, following up on a Parrott strikeout with back-to-back base hits by Peisel and Wyatt. A double steal put the Georgia third baseman at his accustomed position on the field, whereupon Beckham went down swinging and Olson popped up to keep the contest scoreless and continue the Classic City Canines' maddening string of innings ended with a runner at third.

The fourth frame began with another change on the mound, as Adam McDaniel came on in relief of Esmonde. The third Georgia pitcher of the evening proceeded to walk Morrow and allow the Owls left fielder to take second base on a passed ball. Fortunately, McDaniel succeeded in persuading Cross to fly out before striking out Jace Whitmer and Jerome Wooley to end the visitors' turn at bat.

K.S.U. left fielder Jay Morrow drew one walk but went hitless in two official at-bats. In addition, "Northern Exposure" got really bad after he left the show.

The Diamond Dogs spared their fans the dramatics of the first three innings, producing only one baserunner in the bottom of the fourth frame and allowing him to advance no nearer to home plate than first base, as Stewart's single to right field was embedded amidst a Lewis groundout, a Robbins strikeout, and a Freeman flyout to prevent the Georgia faithful from having to endure the frustration of falling only slightly, rather than spectacularly, short of success.

Ryan Woolley took the mound at the start of the fifth inning after his predecessors had combined to hurl a one-hit shutout. Georgia's fourth pitcher of the contest struck out Zack Upton but gave up three bases to Stubblefield, as the Kennesaw State second baseman returned a single to the mound before advancing twice on a pair of wild pitches. Fortunately, Robbins's pop fly turned into a double play, preserving the scoreless snarl at the halfway point of the game.

The home half of the fifth frame commenced with a Parrott flyout, after which a Peisel double chased K.S.U. starting pitcher Kody Paul from the game after a six-hit, three-strikeout performance. Kyle Clayton came on and proceeded to strike out Wyatt, intentionally walk Beckham, and strike out Olson to strand yet another Bulldog baserunner in scoring position.

The start of a new inning meant the arrival of a new pitcher for the Bulldogs, as Nick Montgomery took the field just in time to allow consecutive singles to Baker and Dallas. Morrow reached first on an error to load the bases and whatever redemption Montgomery gained by sneaking a called third strike past Cross was surrendered when he plunked Whitmer to break the deadlock.

Owls right fielder Adam Cross managed just one hit in four at-bats, but, nevertheless, she is the most underrated of the actresses on "Desperate Housewives."

When Wooley's sacrifice fly to right field plated a second unearned run, Montgomery was yanked in favor of Alex McRee, who allowed the Owls catcher to steal second base but accomplished his primary objective of striking out Andrew Martin. Now trailing 2-0, the Diamond Dogs came to the plate in the home half of the sixth stanza and proved even less effective than they had been in the early going. Robbins's single to short accomplished nothing, coming as it did right after Lewis's groundout and Stewart's flyout but immediately prior to Freeman's strikeout.

Kennesaw State kept the pressure on the home team in the top of the seventh inning, in which Stubblefield led off with a flyout but Robbins followed with a base hit. The K.S.U. shortstop then stole second, enabling Baker to move him to third with a flyout. Dallas got aboard by virtue of the same Georgia error that awarded Robbins the third unearned run of the night for the visiting squad. Morrow's ensuing flyout ended the Owls' turn at bat, but not before they had built up a 3-0 advantage.

Fortunately, the Diamond Dogs elected not to go quietly. Parrott began the bottom of the inning on the wrong foot by being thrown out at first, but Peisel drew a base on balls in the next at-bat. A double by Wyatt moved the Georgia third baseman to the hot corner, bringing on the new K.S.U. pitcher who earned the Pyrrhic victory of getting an R.B.I. groundout from Beckham. Olson dropped a base hit into left field to bring a second run home, but Lewis's ensuing single went to waste when Stewart fell victim to a called third strike.

At the outset of the eighth inning, Iain Sebastian took his turn on the mound for the Diamond Dogs, beginning inauspiciously by giving up a base hit to Cross. A strikeout of Whitmer was followed by the surrender of singles to Wooley and Martin in succession, the latter of which did not produce an additional run for the Owls only by virtue of the throw from center field to home plate that kept the K.S.U. right fielder from scoring. Stubblefield grounded out to end Kennesaw State's threat to build on its lead.

"The Owls are not what they seem."

At this point, trailing by one with just six outs to go, the Red and Black were willing to accept offensive output in any form, so it was a positive development when Robbins reached on an error and was replaced on the basepaths by pinch runner Blake Cannady. It was not, however, a good thing when Freeman swung at strike three and Cannady was caught stealing. Parrott's predictable popup ended the inning, sending the contest to the final scheduled stanza.

The ninth inning got underway with a single to center field by Robbins, after which Stephen Dodson began handling the hurling duties. Dodson struck out Baker and persuaded Dallas to ground into an inning-ending double play, thereby bringing the Bulldogs back up to bat with a single slim chance remaining.

The Classic City Canines seemed at first to want nothing to do with victory, though. Peisel led off by flying out and Wyatt went down swinging. With only one out standing between the Diamond Dogs and defeat, Beckham belted out a base hit, but the rally was squelched ere it had the chance to begin, since Olson grounded out in the next at-bat.

It was another frustrating night for the Red and Black, who outhit the opposition, 11-9, but left men on base again and again. Ryan Peisel, Luke Stewart, and Jonathan Wyatt all went two for four at the plate, but leadoff hitter Travis Parrott, cleanup hitter Gordon Beckham, and designated hitter Matt Robbins combined to collect two hits and one R.B.I. in a cumulative 13 at-bats. The Diamond Dogs struck out nine times, thrice as often as they walked.

These days, the Classic City Canines are doing little to inspire their fans to buy a Bulldog baseball jersey . . . but show some school spirit and buy one anyway.

The eight Georgia pitchers combined to throw a decent game, striking out nine and walking three while allowing no earned runs, but ill-timed miscues gave Kennesaw State too many chances. The top of the K.S.U. order (Jacob Robbins, Martin Baker, and Matt Dallas) together registered five hits in a dozen at-bats and scored three runs.

It was one thing when the Red and Black were losing games to solid teams like Oregon State and U.S.C., but this was a game against Kennesaw State, for crying out loud. What's more, it doesn't get easier from here, as attested to by quick glances at Georgia's remaining schedule and the current S.E.C. standings.

Entering this week, Alabama stood at 12-2, Arkansas at 10-5, Auburn at 13-2, Kentucky at 11-0, Mississippi at 9-4, Mississippi State at 6-1, South Carolina at 10-1, and Vanderbilt at 14-0. 24 of the Classic City Canines' next 44 games are against those eight formidable opponents . . . and five of the other 20 are against Clemson and Georgia Tech.

While the friendly confines of Foley Field have offered precious little in the way of home field advantage, even that meager benefit will soon be stripped from the Bulldogs, as 11 of Georgia's 37 home games already have been played, with trips to Atlanta, Clemson, Columbia, Cullowhee, Knoxville, Lexington, Oxford, and Tuscaloosa upcoming.

This team is headed not to a tournament, but into a tailspin. To the Diamond Dogs' existing offensive woes now have been added eight additional scoreless innings and yet another narrow defeat. Baseball, as always, remains a game of inches and consistency, which is what makes the Red and Black's dismal mark so unsettling; the simple ability to score with a runner on third base and fewer than two outs would go a long way toward turning the season around for Georgia. Until and unless that dramatic improvement happens, though, we are looking at a long season that could get ugly.

Go 'Dawgs!