The Diamond Dogs awoke on Easter morning sporting a 12-7 overall record and possessing the conference's longest winning streak at six straight games. (Auburn and South Carolina were tied for the league's second-longest such string, at three victories in a row.) More significant still was the fact that Georgia's 4-1 ledger in S.E.C. play through Saturday afternoon tied the Red and Black with Florida for first place not only in the Eastern Division, but in the Southeastern Conference as a whole. (Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt all were 3-2 in league outings when the day began.)
Although it is early in the conference season (even Alabama, L.S.U., and Mississippi State---each of whom entered Sunday sporting a 1-4 record in S.E.C. play---were only two games out of first place in the Western Division), the Classic City Canines came into their final series meeting with the Volunteers with more even on the line than the possibility of a weekend sweep. Unfortunately, the Red and Black came up short in extra innings on Sunday afternoon.
Nathan Moreau was on the mound in the top of the first inning and he retired each of the three Volunteers he faced in sequence. In the home half of the frame, Ryan Peisel led off with a double to center field and, after Michael Demperio popped up, Gordon Beckham added a double of his own to advance the Georgia third baseman. Rich Poythress's sacrifice fly plated Peisel. After Joey Lewis walked, Matt Olson struck out to end the inning with the home team leading 1-0.
Tennessee did not produce a baserunner in the top of the second stanza and all Georgia had to show for the home half of the canto was a Matt Cerione single. Blake Forsythe walked to become the only Volunteer to reach first base in the third frame and Demperio's leadoff single in the bottom of the same frame likewise made the Bulldog second baseman the only Georgia player to make it out of the batter's box.
Tennessee catcher Blake Forsythe drew two walks but did not record a hit in one official at-bat. Also, he may have been one of the stars of "Dynasty."
A one-out walk by Kentrail Davis in the top of the fourth canto became the first of two Tennessee runs scored when Yan Gomes homered to left field. The next two Volunteers registered outs, but the visitors had taken a 2-1 lead. A base hit by Olson was all the Diamond Dogs managed in the bottom of the stanza.
Following a one-out walk by Forsythe in the top of the fifth frame, Danny Lima belted a base hit to put two men aboard and chase Moreau from the game. Nick Montgomery took the mound and persuaded P.J. Polk to hit into the fielder's choice that cut down Forsythe. After Andy Simunic walked to load the bases, Montgomery sneaked a called third strike past Davis to end the Volunteers' turn at bat with no damage having been done.
A Lima error allowed Demperio to reach base in the bottom of the fifth inning, but the Georgia second baseman was the only Classic City Canine to make it as far as first. Gomes led off the sixth stanza with a single to center field and Cody Brown sacrificed him over to second. After Shawn Griffin popped up, Jeff Lockwood grounded out to strand the baserunner and keep it a one-run contest.
The bottom of the sixth frame commenced with a Poythress single to center field. Unfortunately, Lewis then lined into a double play and Olson grounded out to prevent the Georgia first baseman from advancing beyond his usual spot on the diamond. With one out away in the top of the seventh canto, a Demperio error allowed Lima to reach base and advance to second. A Polk groundout moved the Tennessee shortstop to third and a Simunic double plated an unearned run.
U.T. shortstop Danny Lima went one for four on Sunday afternoon. Also, he may be a coastal city in Peru.
Following a Georgia pitching change, Davis went down swinging to bring the Diamond Dogs back up to bat in the home half of the canto. Bryce Massanari led off with a home run to center field and Lyle Allen followed with a base hit. Cerione hit into a fielder's choice but Peisel singled to right field to move the Bulldog center fielder over to third. A Demperio groundout scored Cerione.
After Beckham was walked intentionally, Peisel stole third. Poythress thereafter flied out to strand the Georgia third baseman, but the score was now tied at 3-3. No Volunteer made it out of the batter's box in the top of the eighth frame and walks by Olson and Allen in the home half of the inning amounted to nothing when neither Bulldog baserunner came around to score.
Tennessee went three up and three down in the top of the ninth canto. The home team did likewise in the bottom of the stanza, necessitating that the contest go to a tenth inning of play. Polk grounded out to start the bonus frame and Simunic proceeded to drop a single into left field. Following a Davis pop-up, Gomes belted a base hit into right field to move the Volunteer second baseman into scoring position.
Brown reached on the error by Peisel that scored an unearned run. Although a passed ball allowed both remaining baserunners to advance, Griffin flied out to prevent additional damage from being done, but the visitors held a 4-3 lead as the home team came up to bat needing to score at least one run before registering three outs.
This does not end well.
The Classic City Canines failed either to keep the game going or to end it on a positive note. Poythress led off by grounding out and Lewis struck out swinging. Olson thus represented the Red and Black's final hope and he proceeded to ground out to short to conclude both the contest and the Georgia right fielder's one for four day at the plate.
While the result was disappointing, you can't win 'em all and it is tough to grouse too loudly about any day on which the Diamond Dogs' starting pitcher gives up two hits and two earned runs. Tennessee registered only half a dozen hits over the course of the afternoon and half of the Volunteers' runs were unearned.
Although Gordon Beckham (1 for 4, 1 walk) finally was held in check, the Red and Black tallied nine hits in spite of the fact that leadoff man Ryan Peisel (2 for 5) had the only multi-hit day of any Bulldog batter. Down 3-1 at the midpoint of the seventh inning, the Classic City Canines battled back to tie the game; while they came up short in the end, they demonstrated determination and grit in forcing a tenth frame in a game they seemed destined to lose in regulation.
To make matters worse, Florida defeated Mississippi on Sunday to run the Gators' S.E.C. record to 5-1, giving the Orange and Blue sole possession of first place in the league. With the loss, the Diamond Dogs dropped back into a four-way tie with Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee for second place at 4-2 in S.E.C. play. Nevertheless, although circumstances certainly are not as good as they could and should have been, all essentially is well for David Perno's squad, which has won both conference series this season.