The Diamond Dogs' weekend began with a stirring win on Friday and continued with a disheartening loss on Saturday, so Sunday was slated to decide the series with the Diamond Hogs as the Red and Black went for their first win in a three-game S.E.C. set since the middle of March.
Nathan Moreau was on the mound for the top of the first inning and the game was going poorly almost from the outset. After Sean Jones led off by flying out, Moreau surrendered consecutive singles to Ben Tschepikow and Logan Forsythe, followed by a double to Jeff Nutt that plated a pair of runs. Casey Coon hit into a fielder's choice and Danny Hamblin flied out to bring the home team up to bat trailing by a 2-0 margin.
When it comes to Georgia baseball, it's best to abandon hope early and go straight to the Kristin Davis picture.
The bottom of the frame largely was uneventful, as a Gordon Beckham walk produced the lone Bulldog baserunner before Jake Dugger drew a base on balls to open the second stanza. Although Matt Willard popped up to register the initial out, a base hit by Brian Walker moved the Arkansas center fielder over to third, enabling Jones to score him with a single. The next two Razorback batters popped up, but the Hogs had claimed a 3-0 lead.
The Diamond Dogs went in order in the bottom of the second inning to allow the visitors to pick up where they left off, commencing with a base hit by Nutt to start the third inning. Fortunately, the next three Razorbacks popped up, struck out, and struck out in sequence. Although Travis Parrott drew a walk at the outset of the home half of the canto, Ryan Peisel grounded into an inning-ending double play after Miles Starr went down swinging.
The Diamond Hogs went back to work in the top of the fourth frame. Willard dropped a single into center field and, after Walker hit into a fielder's choice, Jones was plunked to put runners at first and second. Following a Tschepikow flyout, Forsythe walked to load the bases and force Moreau from the mound. The Georgia starter had surrendered seven hits and a pair of walks to the 21 batters he had faced and the earned runs charged against him had not yet been tallied with finality.
Ryan Woolley assumed the hurling duties and he promptly plunked Nutt to force home the fourth Arkansas run of the contest. After Woolley gave up the walk to Coon that plated a fifth run, Hamblin popped up to conclude the Razorbacks' turn at bat. This time, the Diamond Dogs had an answer in the bottom of the inning, as Jonathan Wyatt doubled to center field, advanced to third on a Beckham flyout, and scored on a Rich Poythress groundout before Matt Olson grounded out to send the contest to a fifth frame featuring only a single by Willard from either squad.
A base hit by Peisel produced the only baserunner for either team in the sixth inning and the Georgia third baseman's single was wasted when Wyatt grounded into a double play. The Hogs went three up and three down in the top of the seventh frame, then Beckham was hit by a pitch at the outset of the bottom of the canto. When Poythress punched a single into left field to advance the Bulldog shortstop to second, it appeared as though the Diamond Dogs would mount a late comeback, much as they had the previous afternoon.
Looks, however, turned out to be deceiving, as Olson grounded into a double play to leave Beckham as the lone baserunner for the Red and Black. Nevertheless, before Jake Crane popped up to conclude the stanza, Beckham took third on a wild pitch and scored when Joey Lewis reached on an error, cutting the Arkansas lead to 5-2.
The Hogs, not wishing to have to win again in extra innings a game in which they held a commanding lead earlier in the contest, resumed their efforts to widen the gap separating them from the home team in the top of the eighth frame. Willard led off with a base hit and, after Walker struck out, Jones walked, bringing Justin Earls to the mound. The latest Georgia reliever sneaked a called third strike past Tschepikow before surrendering a single to center field to Forsythe.
Willard came around to score as a result of the Razorback third baseman's hit and Arkansas threatened to tack on additional runs when Nutt walked to load the bases for Coon. Fortunately, the Hog left fielder hit into a fielder's choice to bring the home team back to the plate, but, unfortunately, three Bulldog batters went quietly in the bottom of the inning.
Arkansas designated hitter Jeff Nutt went two for three, drew a walk, was hit by a pitch, and drove in three runs, but he is not related to this embattled wackjob.
The final canto got off to a promising start when Hamblin grounded out, but the worst was yet to come. Dugger was hit by a pitch and Willard singled to center field, putting two men aboard for Walker. The Arkansas catcher put a home run out to right field to add three more runs, giving the visiting team a 9-2 advantage after Jones and Tschepikow grounded out in succession.
Despite facing a seven-run deficit, the Diamond Dogs displayed a measure of grit in their final opportunity. Although Wyatt lined out at the outset, three straight singles from the bats of Beckham, Poythress, and Olson plated a third Georgia run and put two men aboard with only one out, presenting the possibility of a rally. Lewis, however, grounded into the double play that ended the game.
Just when you start to think the Red and Black are improving, however incrementally, they begin to show sure signs of backsliding. After a stirring upset victory on Friday, the Classic City Canines dropped a heartbreaker on Saturday before being manhandled on Sunday. Despite playing errorless baseball, Georgia lost by a six-run margin (9-3) that was no fluke: Arkansas outhit the home team by six hits (12-6).
Designated hitter Joey Lewis and pinch hitter Matt Robbins together went hitless in five at-bats. In fact, Jake Crane, Joey Lewis, Travis Parrott, Matt Robbins, and Miles Starr combined for a dozen at-bats . . . and no hits. Rich Poythress was the only Bulldog to register more than one hit; Poythress and Matt Olson were the only Georgia players to post R.B.I.
What does a Georgia baseball player have in common with EMF? Neither one has any shot at a second hit.
The Red and Black struck out seven times, walked just twice, and hit into double plays in the third, sixth, seventh, and ninth innings. Meanwhile, the Diamond Dog pitching staff gave up a dozen hits, five walks, and nine earned runs to 47 batters. Justin Earls, Nathan Moreau, and Ryan Woolley each plunked an opposing batsman. Razorback pitcher Jess Todd, on the other hand, went the distance in the complete-game victory.
Granted, some bad luck was involved, as well; Beckham's batted ball in the bottom of the ninth inning likely would have been a double rather than a single, had the ball not struck the umpire and caromed to the Arkansas shortstop. It is highly unlikely, however, that it would have made much difference had the ball gotten through. After the disappointing outing, David Perno said it best: "We're running out of excuses."
As always, this is a great time to be a fan of Georgia athletics, as this weekend saw the Bulldogs' men's tennis, women's tennis, and women's golf teams winning league tournament championships and the Red and Black equestrian team finishing third overall at the varsity equestrian national championships. (I would attempt to explain how the latter squad accomplished its impressive feat, but that would involve the use of such arcane and incomprehensible terms as "the English championship bracket," "the consolation round," "the equitation on the flat round," "equitation over fences," "the reserve championship," and "a sweep in horsemanship.")
The Diamond Dogs, however, stand at 14-26 overall and 6-12 in conference play with 16 games remaining and S.E.C. series yet to be played against Kentucky (27-12-1), Vanderbilt (35-8), Mississippi State (25-10), and South Carolina (31-10). An old saying holds that it's always darkest before the dawn. If that's true, the sun ought to be coming up over Foley Field any minute now.