Lost amid the understandable hoopla surrounding Thursday's much-anticipated N.C.A.A. tournament game was the fact that the Diamond Dogs, winners of three straight including a victory over Western Carolina on Tuesday, absolutely took Alabama A&M behind the woodshed in a rout at Foley Field on Wednesday.
Yeah, all right, so it was just the other Bulldogs, who came into the game with a 2-15 record, but it was nice to see the Red and Black trounce the opposition, particularly since it appeared in the early going that the home team was in for a fight. Manny Siaca led off the first frame with a double for the visitors and the A&M second baseman took third on a Jerome Brown sacrifice on which the visiting left fielder reached base on an error.
Turner Washington reached on a fielder's choice that cut down Brown but scored Siaca and a base hit by Tyron Childress advanced the A&M catcher to second base. Washington took third when Marcus Spencer popped up, but Bryan Evans hit into a fielder's choice to end the inning with the visitors holding only a 1-0 lead.
Despite Ryan Peisel's leadoff groundout in the bottom of the canto, the Classic City Canines set about answering Alabama A&M's run with one of their own. Michael Demperio drew a walk and took second base on a wild pitch after Gordon Beckham flied out to left field. Following a Rich Poythress base on balls, Joey Lewis singled to bring home the Georgia second baseman. Matt Olson grounded out to end the stanza with the score tied.
Play the fight song! The score is tied! Better yet, play the fight song on your tie!
Alabama A&M absorbed the punch and hit back in the top of the second inning. With two outs away and Maverick Scott standing on first base, Siaca muscled a triple into left field to score the visiting designated hitter. Brown's subsequent single brought the A&M second baseman home, as well. Even after Brown swiped second base, Washington grounded out to strand him.
Bryce Massanari began the home half of the frame with a walk and Adam Fuller moved him over to second base with a single. Matt Cerione's sacrifice plated a run and an error allowed the Georgia center fielder to reach first base. The next three plays all were outs, but the Diamond Dogs had pulled to within one run of their guests.
Brent Hallman, who had faced a dozen batters and surrendered four hits and three earned runs in two innings' worth of work, was relieved at the outset of the third stanza, to be replaced by Jason Leaver. The Red and Black reliever allowed a two-out walk, but he otherwise retired the side without incident. This opened the door for Beckham to begin the bottom of the canto with a bang, which he did by leading off with a double.
Following a Poythress walk and an Alabama A&M pitching change, Lewis put a three-run shot out to right field to give the home team the lead. All that followed was an Olson walk, which signified nothing and did not even possess much in the way of sound and fury, but the Diamond Dogs had claimed a 5-3 lead after three innings.
All right, I admit it; my Shakespeare allusion, unlike William Faulkner's, was a bit of a stretch, but, hey, I'm a weblogger, so surely this posting must be a tale told by an idiot, right?
The visitors registered a couple of hits, but no runs, in the top of the fourth stanza, permitting their hosts to go right back to work on offense. An error allowed Peisel to reach first and take second, then a Demperio sacrifice moved him over to third. Beckham's subsequent single made it 6-3.
A Poythress double plated Beckham and provoked another pitching switch before a Lewis double scored Poythress. After Olson walked, Massanari singled to left field to bring home Lewis. The next two Diamond Dogs recorded outs to conclude a four-run, four-hit frame.
Stephen Brock, who had been the goat of the loss to Florida State a week earlier, took the mound in the top of the fifth canto and retired the side in sequence. A two-out home run by Beckham in the bottom of the inning produced another Georgia score, but the stanza's only other outburst, a double from Poythress, failed to generate a run. The visitors went three up and three down to open the sixth frame.
Olson led off the home half of the inning with a home run to right center field. Evidently, Lyle Allen thought the Georgia right fielder had made a good call, because, after Massanari flied out, the Red and Black left fielder put one out to right center field, as well. Additional action ensued in the form of a Jake Crane double and a Demperio single, but the Diamond Dogs were limited to a two-run outburst to make it 12-3.
Make it an even dozen.
No player for Alabama A&M reached base in the top of the seventh stanza, so the Georgia onslaught resumed in the bottom of the frame. Robbie O'Bryan opened the home team's turn at bat with a single and Joshua Fields followed with another. When Olson reached on a fielder's choice, O'Bryan took third base, enabling Massanari to bring him home with a base hit.
A sacrifice fly by Allen scored Olson and a Cerione single put a runner in scoring position. Crane reached on the error that loaded the bases, putting Demperio in a position to bring home two of his teammates with a single to center field. David Thoms then flied out to close out a four-run, five-hit stanza.
At the outset of the eighth inning, Steve Esmonde became the sixth Georgia hurler of the night and the first since the fourth frame to surrender so much as a base hit to any Alabama A&M batter. Childress and Evans each registered singles, but these were sandwiched between a leadoff groundout and an inning-ending putout of Spencer, who initially had reached on a fielder's choice bookended by their respective base knocks.
Georgia had scored in each of the first seven stanzas and, despite liberal substituting by David Perno, the Classic City Canines did it again in the bottom of the eighth canto. O'Bryan led off with a base hit and took second on a wild pitch before Fields belted a home run to left field. The Red and Black produced additional baserunners in the form of Olson (walk) and Cerione (single), but a trio of flyouts prevented either Matt from scoring.
Did the home team get so far ahead that we actually let Pat O'Brien bat?
The top of the final frame was not as free from drama as Bulldog Nation might have liked, although that probably is a bit nitpicky, as Dean Weaver struck out Demarcus Stewart before surrendering a single to Chris Terry. The A&M pinch hitter made it to second on an error when Fabian Harper hit into a fielder's choice, but a Siaca groundout and a Brown strikeout kept another run from crossing home plate.
It was far from a perfect outing for the Diamond Dogs, who committed a pair of errors and conceded nine hits to the opposition, but it was impressive to see the Red and Black put up 18 runs on 22 hits, particularly on a night on which leadoff man Ryan Peisel went without a hit in four at-bats.
Fortunately, the Georgia third baseman's teammates were there to pick up the slack, as starters Michael Demperio (2 for 4, 2 R.B.I.), Gordon Beckham (3 for 4, 2 R.B.I.), Rich Poythress (2 for 2, 1 R.B.I.), Joey Lewis (3 for 4, 5 R.B.I.), Bryce Massanari (2 for 5, 2 R.B.I.), and Matt Cerione (2 for 5) and even subsequent substitutions Robbie O'Bryan (2 for 2) and Joshua Fields (2 for 2, 2 R.B.I.) all had multi-hit days. Several of the batted balls put into play by the Red and Black went for extra bases, as five Bulldogs homered and four of them registered doubles.
The visitors used six pitchers, only one of whom was charged with the responsibility for fewer than two earned runs. Georgia used seven pitchers, only one of whom was charged with the responsibility for so much as a single earned run. Following the fourth frame, Diamond Dog hurlers allowed three hits, no walks, and no runs while striking out five of the 18 batters faced by the Red and Black's last five pitchers (three of whom, incidentally, were named "Stephen": Brock, Ochs, and Esmonde).
Alabama A&M, which competes in the Southwestern Athletic Conference alongside such league rivals as Alcorn State, Grambling State, Mississippi Valley State, and Prairie View A&M, did not, and was not expected to, provide a formidable challenge for the Classic City Canines, but the solid Georgia effort was encouraging, just the same, as Coach Perno's squad prepares to host the visiting Volunteers for a weekend S.E.C. series starting tomorrow.