The Diamond Dogs, fresh from a solid defensive effort at home on Tuesday night, traveled to Tuscaloosa for a baseball battle with 'Bama on Friday evening. The Crimson Tide came into the game sporting a 20-14 overall ledger but only a 5-7 mark in conference play.
Ryan Peisel began the first frame with a bang, belting the second pitch he saw down the left field line for a double. Gordon Beckham sacrificed the Georgia third baseman over to his accustomed position with a flyout to right field, allowing Jonathan Wyatt to bring him home with an R.B.I. groundout. Although Rich Poythress went down swinging in the ensuing at-bat, the Red and Black were off to a solid start, having turned one hit into one run and left no men on base.
In the bottom of the opening canto, Stephen Dodson plunked the leadoff hitter and surrendered a bunt single to the second batter he faced. After that, the Georgia hurler settled down, inducing Kent Matthes and Alex Avila to ground out, with the former hitting into a double play.
Crimson Tide designated hitter Alex Avila went hitless at the plate and did not take the field on defense, but he installed some nice molding in the dugout and stained the wood between at-bats.
Neither squad produced a baserunner in the second stanza, but the third frame became the second consecutive odd-numbered inning to begin with fireworks, as Joey Lewis put the first pitch he saw over the right field wall for the home run that gave the visitors a 2-0 lead. Although Peisel tacked on his second straight double later in the frame, he made it only as far as third before Wyatt popped up to bring the home team up to bat.
Dodson returned to the mound and obtained the first two outs in short order, but he then began to struggle. Emeel Salem and Brandon Belcher registered back-to-back singles to put runners at the corners before Matthes grounded out to strand two of his teammates and leave the Tide scoreless.
Following the Poythress groundout with which the fourth frame got underway, Matt Olson dropped a base hit into right field. Matt Robbins thereafter popped up, but Jake Crane was hit by the first pitch thrown his way to put two men aboard. Unfortunately, Lewis watched a called third strike sail by to leave two Bulldogs on the basepaths just as the Red Elephants had done in the home half of the previous inning.
Alabama went three up and three down in the bottom of the fourth and Georgia looked to return the favor in the top of the fifth, as Miles Starr and Peisel both grounded out to start the inning. Beckham's ensuing flyout took the contest to its halfway point with the Red and Black leading an errorless game both in hits (4-3) and in runs (2-0).
When asked about his failure to get a hit on Friday, Miles Starr replied, "Bats, huh! What are they good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again!"
Those numbers remained unchanged following the home team's turn at bat, as no 'Bama batter reached base in the bottom of the fifth frame. Dodson returned to the dugout having faced 18 batters, walked none, and recorded as many strikeouts as he had allowed hits. Only two of the outs he had obtained had come on fly balls, whereas nine had been the result of grounders.
The sixth canto commenced with a Wyatt single that glanced off of Crimson Tide pitcher Miers Quigley's foot. While Poythress proceeded to fly out to center field, Olson swung at the first pitch that came his way and the Georgia right fielder succeeded in punching a base hit through the right side to advance the Bulldog center fielder to third.
A Robbins double scored Wyatt and moved Olson over to third to take his place. Crane's sacrifice fly brought Olson home and permitted the Red and Black left fielder to advance to third. Robbins remained 90 feet from home plate when Lewis struck out, but the inning nevertheless yielded two runs on three hits to give the visitors a 4-0 advantage.
Belcher managed a single in the bottom of the sixth, but a groundout, a strikeout, and a lineout by those batting around him prevented him from advancing past first base. The 22 batters Dodson had encountered between them had tallied four hits, four strikeouts, three flyouts, 10 groundouts, no walks, and no runs.
Even after going three for four at the plate, Belcher was surly with the media following the game, asking one reporter, "How'd you like a collapsed lung, dog-breath?"
The top of the seventh inning passed swiftly, as the Classic City Canines' first two batters flied out before Beckham walked on four straight pitches and was caught stealing on his way to second base. The home half of the frame featured a Matt Bentley base hit, but it was sandwiched between a strikeout and a fielder's choice, so Brandon May's subsequent flyout ended the inning with the score unchanged.
Wyatt led off the eighth stanza by drawing a walk on four straight pitches. This brought the curtain down on Quigley's night after the Crimson Tide hurler had surrendered seven hits, four earned runs, three doubles, and a home run to the 30 batters he had faced. Josh Copeland came in from the bullpen just in time to see the Georgia center fielder steal second base.
Undaunted, Copeland proceeded to persuade Poythress to ground out and to induce Olson to hit into the fielder's choice that cut down Wyatt on his way to third base. Robbins put down a bunt single to move the Red and Black right fielder into scoring position, but Crane struck out in the next at-bat.
Designated hitter Jake Crane had no hits in two official at-bats, but he was hit by a pitch and he sacrificed home a run. When asked about Crane's performance, Sergeant Schultz replied, "I know nothing!"
Dodson remained on the mound for the home half of the penultimate frame, coaxing three groundouts in a row from the trio of batters he faced, bringing his tally for the outing to five hits, five strikeouts, four flyouts, and 14 groundouts from the 29 batters who stood in against him.
Lewis led off the final frame by popping up for the first out of the inning, but Starr took first base when none of the four pitches tossed to him found the strike zone. This positive development was negated when Peisel grounded into a double play to bring Dodson back out to the mound and the home team back up to bat.
Matthes broke up the shutout with a leadoff home run to start the bottom of the ninth stanza. The Crimson Tide's hopes for a rally were dampened somewhat when the Alabama right fielder's solo shot was followed by an out registered by Avila, but successive singles by Jake Smith and Bentley brought the potential tying run to the plate. Ryan Rhoden stared at strike three to bring Dodson within one out of a complete game victory and he got it by convincing May to chase the third strike that ended the outing.
'Bama first baseman Matt Bentley went two for four, which ain't bad for a car.
While I could have done without the ninth-inning excitement, I respect David Perno's decision to rely on Stephen Dodson to continue performing after too many bullpen breakdowns cost the Classic City Canines in contests in which starting pitchers arguably were pulled from the mound sooner than they should have been.
Offensively, the Diamond Dogs did not outduel their hosts, as each team registered eight hits, but the Red and Black were more effective than they previously have been in their efforts to generate runs, one base and one batter at a time. Matt Olson, Ryan Peisel, and Matt Robbins all had multiple hits on Friday night, whereas Alabama's leadoff hitter (Emeel Salem) and designated hitter (Alex Avila) went only one for seven between them.
Georgia, while far from perfect, played well and earned the conference road win that is sure to boost the Bulldogs' confidence heading into the remaining two games of their series with the Crimson Tide. Tomorrow afternoon's outing is scheduled to start at 4:00 p.m.