Savannah State came to the Classic City on Tuesday night so the Tigers could take on a Diamond Dog squad still reeling from a 9-0 drubbing absorbed in Oxford two days before. While the Red and Black generated marginally more offense at Foley Field than they had on Sunday, it was sound defense and solid pitching that saved the day.
Alex McRee was effective in the first inning, retiring each of the three Tigers he faced without allowing a batted ball to get out of the infield. Luke Stewart led off the bottom of the frame with a walk but was tagged out while attempting to steal second. After Gordon Beckham went down swinging, Jonathan Wyatt drew a base on balls and was successful in his steal attempt, but Rich Poythress grounded out to leave the Georgia center fielder in scoring position.
Bulldog designated hitter Luke Stewart went one for two from the leadoff spot and scored the contest's lone run, but he'll never rule the universe with his evil father!
Savannah State went in succession in the second stanza, as the first three batters to stride to the plate flied out, lined out, and grounded out one after the other. This brought the home team back up to bat, allowing Matt Olson to record the evening's first hit on a single to center field.
Ryan Peisel grounded out to move the Bulldog right fielder over and, when Matt Cerione reached on an error, Olson successfully took third but was thrown out heading for home. After Joey Lewis drew a base on balls, Miles Starr hit into the fielder's choice that left the Red and Black left fielder standing on third base but unable to advance the remaining 90 feet.
McRee surrendered a leadoff walk to Alfred Arnold to start the third inning, although this had little impact, since the next two Savannah State batters hit into fielder's choices to keep any Tiger from advancing to second base. Kyle Wilkerson was caught stealing to end the visitors' turn at bat.
The Classic City Canines finally got going in the bottom of the third canto. Stewart, Beckham, and Wyatt began the inning with three straight singles to load the bases for Poythress, who struck out swinging. Olson's sacrifice fly scored the Georgia designated hitter, but the Bulldog shortstop was thrown out on the play, preventing the home team from claiming better than a one-run lead.
One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do. Two can be as bad as one . . . except in a tight baseball game, in which case two is way better than one.
Antonio Richmond led off the fourth inning with a base hit, but, after Ryan Sainz flied out and John Keene struck out, the Tiger left fielder was caught stealing. The Diamond Dogs had only a Lewis single to show for the home half of the frame.
Steve Esmonde took over the pitching duties at the outset of the fifth stanza and he retired the first three batters he faced. Wyatt sandwiched a base hit between Beckham and Poythress flyouts in the bottom of the inning, but it came to naught.
The Tigers went three up and three down in the sixth inning and the Red and Black managed only a two-out single by Cerione in the second half of that selfsame stanza. No Savannah State player reached base in the seventh frame, but the Bulldogs seemed on the verge of building on their lead when their turn at the plate came around once more.
Matt Robbins began the proceedings with a base on balls. Stewart sacrificed the Georgia pinch hitter over to second, leaving a vacant base which was filled when Beckham walked, as well. The Bulldog shortstop was picked off, but Robbins successfully swiped third base, only to have Wyatt swing at strike three to strand him there.
This is what it feels like to be a Georgia baserunner on third.
Accordingly, the visiting team remained very much within striking distance of the host squad when Adam McDaniel emerged from the bullpen to pitch the eighth inning. Following a groundout and a popup by the first two Tiger batters, Jonathan Ross dropped a base hit into center field to allow Marcus Cortes to step up to the plate representing the go-ahead run. Fortunately, the Savannah State pinch hitter popped up to end the inning.
No Diamond Dog made it out of the batter's box in the home half of the frame, so the Tigers returned to the plate for their final opportunity. Joshua Fields took the hill and made short work of the visitors, sneaking a called third strike past Timothy Waine, inducing Glen Wormley to ground out, and persuading Richmond to chase strike three to render the bottom of the ninth superfluous.
At this point in the season, any win for this club is a good win, even if it comes in a Tuesday night contest against a non-conference opponent, so I won't be looking a gift horse in the mouth. Defensively, the Diamond Dogs were solid, playing errorless ball in the field and maintaining full control of the contest from the mound.
Four Georgia pitchers combined to hurl a two-hit shutout in which six visiting batters struck out but only one walked. No Tiger drew a base on balls after the third inning and only one of the last 18 Savannah State batters was credited with a hit. Leadoff hitter Antonio Richmond, cleanup hitter Brandon Javis, and designated hitter Alfred Arnold combined to go one for eight at the plate. Incredibly, no Tiger made it safely to second base.
That's something the Tigers have in common with Louis Skolnick.
While I hate to hunt for the cloud at the center of the silver lining, the Red and Black's lack of offensive production again was cause for concern. It was great that the home team got the shutout, but it is distressing that the Diamond Dogs had to keep the visitors off the scoreboard in order to win.
To his credit, David Perno has been reshuffling the lineup for the last several games in an effort to find a batting order that works and moving Jonathan Wyatt out of the leadoff spot appears to have helped the Georgia center fielder regain at least some of his offensive pop. Wyatt went two for three on Tuesday, making him the only Bulldog batter to have recorded more than one hit.
The five Classic City Canines at the top of the order collectively went five for 15, which is far from awful, but, if the Red and Black cannot manage more than that against Savannah State, their prospects for winning upcoming road games against Alabama, Georgia Tech, and Kentucky are dim, particularly if Rich Poythress and Ryan Peisel each goes hitless in four at-bats in the same outing, as they did this evening.
It's a win and I'll take it, but the Diamond Dogs will have to perform substantially better at the plate if Tuesday night's outing is to be anything more than a brief respite before the Red and Black return to their losing ways this weekend.