I won't lie to you; I came into Saturday's game between the Diamond Dogs and their ersatz canine hosts with more than a minor measure of trepidation. There was no getting around the fact that, after a solid start to conference play, the Red and Black arrived at the ballpark for the second outing of their three-game set with Mississippi State having lost three of their previous four contests, including extra-inning conference affairs with Tennessee last Sunday and M.S.U. on Friday night.
Fortunately, Georgia turned it around with a 5-1 road win in an S.E.C. showdown. The contest began inconsistently enough for the Classic City Canines, who got the first frame underway with Ryan Peisel grounding out, Lyle Allen being hit by a pitch, Gordon Beckham flying out, and Rich Poythress singling up the middle to put runners at the corners. Matt Olson hit into the fielder's choice that ended the visitors' initial turn at the plate.
The home team was similarly streaky in the bottom of the inaugural canto. Grant Hogue led off by fouling out and Ryan Collins fouled off a trio of pitches before drawing a walk on a payoff pitch. Jason Nappi put the first pitch he saw into center field for a base hit, but Cody Freeman and Connor Powers flied out in back-to-back at-bats to squander the scoring opportunity.
Bryce Massanari led off the second stanza with a single up the middle, but the next three batters in the Georgia order registered outs to prevent the Bulldog designated hitter from advancing. A one-out first-pitch single by Russ Sneed in the bottom of the frame likewise came to naught when the next two M.S.U. players to enter the batter's box fouled out and reached on the fielder's choice that cut down the hometown shortstop, respectively.
Mississippi State shortstop Russ Sneed went one for four with two strikeouts on Saturday, thereby verifying that his swing isn't the equal of his great-uncle Sam's.
A pair of groundouts to open the third canto did not appear promising, but Beckham put the first pitch thrown his way over the right field wall to give the visitors a 1-0 advantage before Poythress ended the inning with a strikeout. Mississippi State tried to answer in the bottom of the stanza, when Collins followed up a Hogue strikeout with a first-pitch single and advanced to second on a passed ball after Nappi went down swinging.
A Freeman single moved the M.S.U. left fielder to third, but Powers grounded out to strand the tying run. The Classic City Canines went back on the offensive in the top of the fourth frame, commencing with Olson's leadoff home run to right field. Massanari and Matt Cerione registered singles up the middle in the next two at-bats and, after Joey Lewis grounded into the double play that also cut down the Georgia center fielder, Michael Demperio drew a walk to keep the inning alive.
Peisel put the first pitch he saw into play. Although his effort to leg it out as far as third base resulted in the final out of the inning, the double with which he was credited scored a pair of runs to extend the visitors' lead to 4-0. Stephen Dodson retired the side in sequence in the bottom of the frame.
The fifth stanza did not begin auspiciously for the Red and Black, who started the top of the canto with a pair of groundouts. However, Poythress walked on four straight pitches to prompt a Mississippi State pitching change. Lee Swindle was pulled after facing 22 batters and surrendering seven hits and two walks. He was charged with five earned runs . . . but I am getting ahead of myself.
Orson Swindle congratulates his cousin, Lee, on Saturday's pitching performance.
Forrest Moore took up station on the mound in time to see Poythress steal second base. The M.S.U. reliever then conceded an R.B.I. single to Olson, walked Massanari, and threw the wild pitch that allowed both baserunners to advance. Cerione grounded out to spare the hometown hurler further embarrassment after the Classic City Canines had built up a 5-0 lead.
Mississippi State did not intend to go quietly, though. Following back-to-back groundouts to start the bottom of the inning, three straight singles through the left side were tallied by Collins, Nappi, and Freeman, the last of which plated a run. In an elegant effort at symmetry, Powers turned the first pitch he saw into a groundout.
That marked the end of the scoring for either team. Each squad produced one baserunner in the sixth stanza, as Demperio walked in the top of the inning and Sneed reached on an error in the bottom of the canto, but neither man advanced any farther than first base. This same pattern was repeated in the seventh frame, when a Poythress single in the visitors' half of the inning and a Collins single in the hosts' half of the inning marked the only instances of men from either team making it out of the batter's box, although the M.S.U. left fielder made it as far as second base on a balk.
The eighth frame produced slightly more intrigue, as the top of the canto saw Lewis draw a one-out walk and Peisel draw a two-out walk before Allen fouled out to bring the home team back up to bat. The bottom of the inning began with a pitching switch, as Dodson called it a day after crossing paths with 30 batters and allowing eight hits and a walk but only one earned run.
Earned . . . you know, unlike Ted Kennedy's readmission to Harvard or his election to the Senate in 1962.
Justin Earls succeeded the Georgia starter on the mound and he sat down each of the batters he saw in succession. The Classic City Canines likewise went three up and three down in the top of the ninth inning, in which Mississippi State closer Jesse Carver expended little energy, securing three outs on just four pitches.
Earls threw three pitches to Sneed in the bottom of the final stanza, all of which were strikes, and thereby obtained the first of the requisite outs. The second came when Jet Butler flied out to right field. Nick Hardy, however, doubled down the right field line and Hogue joined the M.S.U. pinch hitter on the basepaths when he was hit by a pitch.
Earls proceeded to close the door, convincing Collins to ground out to secure the Red and Black victory in a contest that was the antithesis of Friday's outing: Georgia won the game by a four-run margin despite the fact that the two teams tallied equal numbers of hits, at nine apiece.
That's a lot of hitting.
M.S.U. leadoff hitter Grant Hogue, whose unearned runs had made the difference in the previous evening's outing, was held without a hit on Saturday, but the next three batters in the home team's lineup (Ryan Collins, Jason Nappi, and Cody Freeman) together went seven for twelve, despite batting in only one run between them.
David Perno wisely shifted the offensively anemic Michael Demperio to the bottom of the batting order and the shuffling of the lineup had its intended effect; although the Diamond Dogs' first three hitters (Ryan Peisel, Lyle Allen, and Gordon Beckham) collectively garnered only two hits in a combined thirteen at-bats, the three of them batted in a trio of runs. The middle of the Georgia order (Rich Poythress, Matt Olson, and Bryce Massanari) also came on strong, going six for twelve and batting in a pair of runs.
This was a good win for the Red and Black, who head into Sunday afternoon's rubber game with a chance to clinch a third straight Southeastern Conference series before hosting longtime rival Clemson in the Classic City on Tuesday.