Before we get to Saturday evening's rain-delayed game between the Diamond Dogs and the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, I should take the opportunity to mention that Corn Nation will be hosting each weekend's college baseball open comment thread here at SportsBlogs Nation. The fit is a natural one, inasmuch as the College World Series is played in Omaha, so be sure to stop by to delve into all the scholastic diamond minutiae that's fit to blog.
As for the game itself, once it finally got underway, Luke Stewart led off by reaching first base on a fielding error and Gordon Beckham followed up by reaching first base on a fielder's choice. After Jonathan Wyatt popped up, the Georgia shortstop was caught stealing at second base, bringing the top of the first inning to a close. The home team went three up and three down in the bottom of the frame.
Georgia designated hitter Luke Stewart went hitless in five at-bats, but he prepared a decorative floral centerpiece between innings.
The second stanza got underway inauspiciously for the Red and Black, as a Rich Poythress strikeout and a Matt Olson flyout put the visiting team one out away from returning to the field. Matt Robbins, however, had other ideas, as the Bulldog left fielder put the first pitch he saw into the outfield for a double.
This set the stage for Ryan Peisel to return an R.B.I. single up the middle, scoring Robbins. After the Georgia third baseman took second on a wild pitch, Joey Lewis worked the count full before drawing a base on balls. Miles Starr popped up to strand two teammates, but the Classic City Canines still held the early 1-0 lead.
The home team mimicked the Diamond Dogs' approach in the bottom of the inning, as the first two 'Bama batters grounded out and only then did the squad's offensive efforts begin. After a throwing error put Jake Smith aboard, Brandon Belcher returned a base hit up the middle to put the tying run in scoring position. With two men aboard and the chance to play the hero, Kyle Moore opted instead to ground out to second base.
The Red and Black went in order in the top of the third canto and the Tide provided an early indication of why they were so anxious to get back up to bat: Greg Paiml led off with a base hit and Emeel Salem followed with another. Brandon May put down the sacrifice bunt that moved the Alabama center fielder and shortstop to second and third, respectively, then Alex Avila put the sacrifice fly into center field that brought home the tying run and put Salem on third base.
Kent Matthes's groundout concluded the inning with the score knotted at one run apiece and Poythress began the fourth frame with a popup. After Olson flied out, Robbins got aboard with a single through the left side and a fielding error allowed Peisel to take first base. A wild pitch advanced both baserunners, but Lewis's ensuing strikeout left the Red and Black left fielder still standing on third.
Crimson Tide right fielder Kent Matthes failed to get a hit in three at-bats on Saturday, which he found disappointing, since he came into the game thinking that chances were his chances were awfully good.
Matt Bentley began the bottom of the inning with a base hit to left field. Smith moved him over with a single through the left side. Belcher's sacrifice bunt advanced both baserunners, permitting a Moore double to plate a pair of runs and give the Red Elephants their first lead of the series so far.
After a Paiml flyout allowed the Alabama catcher to take third, Salem's subsequent single scored another run. The Crimson Tide center fielder was picked off to end the inning before additional damage could be done, but the home team had taken a 4-1 lead off of a four-hit, three-run stanza.
No Bulldog batter reached base in the top of the fifth frame and the home half of the canto commenced with a pitching change, as Trevor Holder was brought on in relief of Justin Earls. The Georgia starter had gone up against 19 batters, allowed no bases on balls, and posted an acceptable ratio of groundouts (8) to flyouts (3), but Earls had been touched up for seven hits and four earned runs in four innings.
Holder dispensed with the first two Red Elephants he faced, inducing May to pop up and convincing Avila to ground out, but Matthes put an 0-2 pitch into play and reached first base on a fielding error. This miscue was undone when the 'Bama right fielder was caught stealing and thrown out at second, so the Diamond Dogs returned to the plate to attempt to get something going offensively.
Wyatt began this effort with an ignominious flyout to start the sixth stanza, but Poythress knocked a double down the left field line and, after Olson also flied out, the Georgia first baseman took third on a wild pitch. Robbins drew a two-out walk to put runners at the corners, whereupon Peisel parked the second pitch he saw over the wall in left center field to bring home a trio of runs.
Despite going two for two and scoring a pair of runs, Georgia left fielder Matt Robbins still wasn't invited to appear at Cooperstown to commemorate the 15th anniversary of "Bull Durham" for fear that he would use the Hall of Fame as a platform for airing his political views.
Lewis grounded out to get the bottom of the inning underway with the score tied at four runs apiece. Holder's first pitch resulted in an out when Bentley popped up, but Smith put a solo shot out to left field to reclaim the lead for the home team. Belcher thereafter dropped a double into left field, but Holder got the next two batters out to keep the Alabama left fielder from advancing.
Travis Parrott entered the game as a pinch hitter to lead off the seventh inning and he succeeded in turning an 0-2 pitch into a base hit. After Parrott swiped second, Stewart stared at strike three on a 3-2 count. Four of the five pitches thrown to Beckham were balls, so Bernard Robert was pulled from the game following a little over six innings' worth of work, during which he struck out four, walked three, surrendered half a dozen hits, and allowed four earned runs.
Tommy Hunter took the mound and immediately recorded an unassisted out, catching Beckham stealing and sending him back to the dugout in shame. Wyatt took Hunter to a full count in the next at-bat, but the Alabama pitcher won, as the Georgia center fielder grounded out with the tying run standing at second base.
The bottom of the seventh inning began with a lineout and a flyout, but matters got more interesting when Avila singled down the left field line and Matthes drew a base on balls. Fortunately, Bentley popped up to end the threat and keep the Red Elephants' lead at one run, keeping the door open for the Diamond Dogs.
At the outset of the eighth frame, the Classic City Canines made it known that they did not intend to go quietly. Poythress turned a leadoff single into a de facto double when he took second base on a wild pitch. Olson grounded out to move the Georgia first baseman over to third and, after Robbins walked on four consecutive pitches, Peisel put the first pitch he saw down the right field line for an R.B.I. double.
Georgia third baseman Ryan Peisel ordered a double.
With the score now tied, Blake Cannady came into the game as a pinch runner for Robbins and he scored on a Lewis single up the middle. Although Mike Freeman's subsequent strikeout stranded two baserunners, the Red and Black had claimed a one-run lead (6-5) despite operating at a one-hit deficit (10-9).
Joshua Fields took the hill for the visiting team in the bottom of the frame and he made short work of the Crimson Tide, retiring the side on a strikeout, a popup, and a groundout. The first three Diamond Dogs to stand in the batter's box were sat down in sequence in the top of the ninth inning, as well, so the home team returned to the plate trailing by one.
Paiml drew a leadoff walk and a single by Salem moved him over to third. From there, a base hit bunt by Jeff Texada was sufficient to bring home the tying run. Avila sacrificed the runners over, trading an out for a base to put the winning run 90 feet from home plate. After Matthes was walked intentionally, Bentley took Fields to a full count before dropping the single into right center field that plated Salem to give the Crimson Tide a 7-6 victory.
There can be no doubt that, when a one-run lead after eight innings turns into a one-run loss after nine, it hurts. On the whole, though, I don't feel terribly badly about this one . . . and not just because I am becoming accustomed to the Diamond Dogs' penchant for close losses and blown saves. Despite committing a pair of errors and being outhit 13-9, despite being down 4-1 after five innings and trailing 5-4 after seven stanzas, and despite four of the top five batters in the lineup having gone hitless in 18 combined at-bats, the Red and Black almost pulled off an improbable victory.
While the setback is frustrating and the persistent problems are maddening, incremental progress is being made when the Bulldogs battle back from early adversity rather than collapsing. This time, the Diamond Dogs went with a bang, not a whimper, and that, at least, is something.
Saturday was a great day to be a Georgia sports fan. For the second straight day, a Bulldog track and field athlete broke one of her own records. The sixth-ranked women's tennis team clinched the S.E.C. title. The second-ranked women's gymnastics team won the North Central Regional to earn its 25th straight trip to the N.C.A.A. Championships. The top-ranked men's tennis team completed a second straight unbeaten regular season. On the diamond, though, the Georgia baseball team once more fell short, but the Red and Black still will have the chance to clinch the series with a win on Sunday afternoon.