The Diamond Dogs returned to action on Saturday afternoon following a disappointing start to S.E.C. play on Friday night. The Red and Black once again were hosted by the Arkansas Razorbacks, but the second outing of the weekend series was dramatically different from their earlier meeting.
The Classic City Canines got off to a slow start, as the base on balls drawn by Michael Demperio produced the only Georgia baserunner in the top of the first inning. The home team fared rather better in the bottom of the frame, beginning when Chase Leavitt led off with a base hit. A Brett Eibner double brought the Arkansas right fielder around to score and a Logan Forsythe bunt advanced the Razorback center fielder to third. A three-run shot to right field by Andy Wilkins gave the Hogs a 4-0 advantage, but no additional damage was done in the remainder of the canto.
Matt Olson and Lyle Allen began the top of the second stanza with consecutive singles, but the next two Bulldog batters hit into fielder's choices and Matt Cerione struck out swinging. Tim Smalling's single not only produced the lone baserunner in the bottom of the frame, it also made the Arkansas shortstop the only Razorback to have stepped into the batter's box without producing a flyout.
A two-out double by Gordon Beckham in the top of the third canto was rendered moot when Rich Poythress turned the first pitch he saw into a groundout. Arkansas generated another run in the home half of the inning, thanks to the combination of a leadoff single by Forsythe, a follow-up double by Wilkins, and a sacrifice fly by Aaron Murphree.
Arkansas first baseman Andy Wilkins went two for four with three R.B.I., but, because he did it against Georgia, his Uncle Dominique was none too pleased with him.
After the Diamond Dogs began the fourth frame with back-to-back groundouts, Bryce Massanari doubled down the right field line and David Thoms walked on four straight pitches to give the Red and Black the opportunity to climb back into the contest. Unfortunately, Cerione swung at the first pitch he saw and was thrown out at first base to squelch the budding threat.
A leadoff double by Ryan Cisterna got the bottom of the inning underway. Smalling flied out to move the Razorback catcher to third and Leavitt walked to put runners at the corners. The Arkansas right fielder proceeded to steal second and take third on the throwing error that allowed Cisterna to score. After Eibner went down swinging, Forsythe put one out to right field to plate another pair of runs.
With the home team now leading 8-0, David Perno elected to yank Stephen Dodson in favor of Nick Montgomery. The Georgia starter had surrendered ten hits (including three doubles and two home runs) and eight earned runs in a little under four full innings' worth of work. Mercifully, the Bulldog reliever succeeded in persuading Wilkins to stare at strike three as it made its way to the catcher's mitt.
The Diamond Dogs at long last got themselves on the board in the top of the fifth canto, when Ryan Peisel led off by sending the first pitch thrown his way down the right field line for a home run. The next three Georgia batters flied out, grounded out, and struck out in succession, however.
It's a start.
The Hogs immediately went back to work in the bottom of the stanza. Jacob House led off with a base hit to left field and Murphree followed that up with the home run to center field that gave Arkansas a 12-5 lead in hits and a 10-1 lead in runs. After the next two Razorbacks registered outs, Smalling walked on four straight pitches. Leavitt, though, struck out looking to end the inning.
The Classic City Canines began to strike back in the sixth frame. Olson led off with a single, Allen thereafter drew a walk, and Massanari doubled to bring the Georgia right fielder home and chase Shaun Seibert from the mound after he had surrendered seven hits (including three doubles and a home run), three walks, and two earned runs to the 25 batters who had crossed his path.
On came Dallas Keuchel, who struck out Joshua Fields and Adam Fuller before a fielding error allowed Peisel to reach base and permitted Allen to score an unearned run. A Demperio single scored another run, then a Beckham double, one more. Poythress grounded out to conclude the Red and Black's four-run, four-hit frame. In the bottom of the inning, Eibner walked and stole second base, but no other Razorback succeeded either in getting aboard or in advancing the baserunner.
Although Olson led off the seventh stanza by grounding out, his teammates were more than capable of picking up the slack. After Allen turned the first pitch he saw into a base hit, Massanari put the first ball thrown his way over the center field wall to tack two more runs onto the scoreboard. Fields walked, provoking another pitching change, and Fuller and Peisel registered consecutive doubles to bring in two more runs. A Demperio walk was followed by the Beckham base hit that, together with an accompanying fielding error, scored another pair of runs to give Georgia an improbable 11-10 lead. A Poythress single thereafter scored one more run for good measure.
Can Georgia pull this one out? It would take a miracle!
By the time Olson grounded into an inning-ending double play, the Diamond Dogs had put together a seven-run, six-hit inning. For this the Razorbacks had no immediate answer, as the side was retired in order by Justin Earls in the bottom of the frame. The Red and Black had only one hit to show for the eighth inning, but it happened to be a solo home run by Massanari.
The Razorback comeback began in the bottom of the penultimate scheduled stanza with a Smalling double. A Leavitt single moved him over to third and the Arkansas shortstop scored when Eibner grounded into a double play. Forsythe's subsequent double and Wilkins's ensuing walk resulted in a pitching switch and Fields was sent to the mound. He threw one pitch and got House to ground out to short.
Not content with where matters now stood, Peisel led off the ninth inning with a double to left center field and advanced to third when Demperio turned the first pitch thrown his way into a bunt single. The Bulldog second baseman stole second, whereupon Beckham punched a base hit through the left side to move Demperio to third and score Peisel.
The Georgia shortstop then swiped second base himself and the accompanying throwing error by the Arkansas catcher allowed Demperio to score. Although each subsequent Diamond Dog recorded an out, the Red and Black had opened up a 19-15 lead in hits and a 15-11 lead in runs.
You score fifteen runs and what do you get?
Accordingly, it all came down to the bottom of the ninth inning. Fields was assigned the task of recording three outs before allowing more than three runs. He began inauspiciously, by walking Murphree, but he succeeded in striking out Ben Tschepikow and Cisterna in the next two at-bats.
Murphree then decided to take matters into his own hands, successfully stealing second, but this was of no consequence: Smalling struck out to end an amazing game which was the polar opposite of last year's season-ending meltdown. Aided by a trio of Arkansas errors and some prudent pinch-hitting decisions by Coach Perno during the sixth inning which paid big dividends in the seventh, the Classic City Canines transformed a 10-1 deficit after five frames into a 15-11 victory after nine.
Saturday afternoon's win truly was a team effort, as six Diamond Dogs had multiple-hit days: Ryan Peisel (3 for 6, 2 R.B.I.), Michael Demperio (2 for 4, 1 R.B.I.), Gordon Beckham (4 for 6, 3 R.B.I.), Matt Olson (2 for 6), Lyle Allen (2 for 5), and Bryce Massanari (4 for 6, 4 R.B.I.). For once, the starting pitching was shaky but the bullpen was able to recover, rather than it being the other way around on the mound.
The Red and Black, who now have evened their won-lost record once again, will be back in action in Fayetteville on Sunday afternoon for the series-settling game of their set with the Razorbacks. Undoubtedly, the Diamond Dogs will be mindful of the fact that, in three Sunday showdowns this season, they have lost a trio of one-run games, 9-8 to Arizona, 5-4 to Oregon State, and 7-6 to Memphis. Until then, though, let's savor the Classic City Canines' biggest comeback win since their victory over South Carolina in the 2006 S.E.C. tournament.