Following a successful three-game stretch over the course of the preceding week, the Diamond Dogs went into Sunday afternoon's outing against the Memphis Tigers looking to sweep the final weekend series prior to the commencement of S.E.C. play. This they failed to do, falling in spectacularly bad fashion in a game distressingly reminiscent of the Classic City Canines' disastrous 2007 campaign.
Nathan Moreau drew the starting assignment and, although he ran into some trouble in the top of the first frame when K.K. Chalmers led off with a walk and Adam McClain followed that up with a base hit, he got out of the jam without surrendering a run. Deviating from their recent form, the Red and Black generated nothing in the home half of the opening canto except a Gordon Beckham walk.
Chad Zurcher and Eric Farrell registered back-to-back hits in the top of the second stanza, the latter of which was a double that put the Memphis shortstop on third. A balk then brought him home to give the visitors at 1-0 lead. No Bulldog reached base in the bottom of the inning.
McClain and Brett Bowen opened up the third frame with consecutive singles, enabling the Tigers to plate another run with a pair of groundouts. A leadoff single by Lyle Allen was all Georgia had to show for the bottom half of the canto. The visitors' 5-1 lead in hits and 2-0 lead in runs began to appear ominous . . . then the fourth inning commenced.
Moreau at last managed to silence the Memphis bats in the top of the stanza, allowing only a Tyler Huelsing walk which went for naught when the Tiger left fielder was caught stealing. This brought the Classic City Canines back up to the plate and Beckham began the proceedings with a base hit to left field. Rich Poythress followed this up with a single to the same location.
Joey Lewis loaded the bases with a bunt single before Matt Olson hit into the fielder's choice that yielded a double play. Bryce Massanari drew the base on balls that put three men aboard for Allen, who singled to center field to tie the game. A Matt Cerione double then gave the Diamond Dogs a 4-2 advantage. Following a Memphis pitching change, Ryan Peisel went down swinging to conclude the Red and Black's four-run, five-hit frame.
Moreau had settled down by the top of the fifth inning, in which he surrendered only a McClain walk. Michael Demperio led off the bottom of the canto with a popup, but Beckham belted a single into left field and stole second base. After Poythress, too, popped up, Lewis recorded the base hit that scored the Georgia shortstop. The Bulldog catcher moved into scoring position on a wild pitch and, although Olson grounded out to end the inning, the home team now held a three-run lead.
Nick Montgomery was brought in to pitch the top of the sixth stanza, relieving Moreau after the Red and Black starter allowed five hits, three walks, and two earned runs to the 22 batters he faced through five innings. A leadoff single and an error put Robby Graham on second base, but a strikeout, a pop-up, and a flyout followed to prevent the Memphis right fielder from advancing any nearer to home plate.
Nathan Moreau had a decent outing, but that doesn't excuse his ethically questionable scientific experiments.
The home half of the stanza began with a Massanari flyout, a Tiger pitching switch, and an Allen strikeout. An inning that appeared at first uninteresting then acquired a dash of excitement as Cerione walked, the Georgia center fielder came around to third base on a failed pickoff attempt and an error, Peisel walked, and the Bulldog third baseman took second base on a passed ball. Unfortunately, Demperio went down swinging to deprive the situation of all its drama.
Montgomery plunked Farrell to begin the seventh frame, but he induced outs from each of the next two Memphis batters before Stephen Brock was brought in to take over the hurling duties. The new Georgia pitcher proceeded to throw the wild pitch that put the Tiger second baseman at his accustomed position before allowing the single to Bowen that brought Farrell home. Cole Shelton flied out to end the inning, but the gap had been narrowed to 5-3.
Beckham led off the bottom of the canto with a double to left field and, after Poythress went down swinging, Lewis recorded the R.B.I. single that restored the home team's three-run advantage. The Red and Black catcher remained on first base at inning's end. In the top of the eighth frame, Jason Leaver began by alternating outs with walks, getting the first batter to strike out and the third batter to pop up while issuing bases on balls to the second and fourth hitters.
When Leaver gave a free pass to Farrell, as well, Justin Earls was brought in to face Chalmers with the bases loaded and the go-ahead run standing in the batter's box. The Memphis center fielder reached on the error by Peisel that allowed a pair of unearned runs to cross home plate, narrowing the Diamond Dogs' margin to a lone run. The situation went from bad to worse when McClain and Bowen tallied back-to-back base hits to bring home two more unearned runs. The visitors now held a 7-6 lead in runs to offset the home team's 10-9 advantage in hits.
Justin Earls didn't do his karma any good in the eighth inning.
Mercifully, Shelton grounded out to end the inning before additional damage could be done. After Allen led off the bottom of the eighth frame by striking out, the Classic City Canines went back on the offensive, after a fashion: Cerione drew a walk, Peisel was hit by a pitch, and Demperio put down a bunt single to load the bases. Unfortunately, Beckham popped up and Poythress struck out to strand the tying run 90 feet from home plate.
Predictably, that effectively ended the contest, as the ninth inning passed without incident. The Tigers went in order in the top of the frame on a flyout and a pair of groundouts, while the Diamond Dogs went three up and three down in the bottom of the stanza when Lewis, Olson, and Massanari flied out, flied out, and grounded out, respectively.
While the Red and Black took the series, it was disappointing that they squandered the opportunity for the sweep in a game in which they held a 6-3 lead heading into the eighth inning. The pitching staff performed competently, if not spectacularly, collectively surrendering three earned runs over the course of the afternoon. A pair of errors proved particularly costly and the Classic City Canines left ten men on base, one more than the Tigers stranded.
Good days at the plate by Gordon Beckham (3 for 4) and Joey Lewis (3 for 5, 2 R.B.I.) were wasted when Georgia's leadoff hitter (Ryan Peisel), cleanup hitter (Rich Poythress), and designated hitter (Bryce Massanari) together went one for twelve with no R.B.I. and four strikeouts.
One is the new twelve.
Maddeningly, Georgia's last two batters in the ninth inning collectively went without a hit on Sunday, calling to mind the question why no late-inning substitutions were made in an attempt to pull out the victory. While I understand the argument for saving a team's best efforts for conference action and playoff runs (a mindset which is one of my main reasons for opposing a Division I-A college football playoff), would it really have been that huge a concession to have put in pinch hitters for Matt Olson and Bryce Massanari---a .244 hitter and a .182 hitter, respectively---in the bottom of the ninth in a one-run game?
A series win is a series win, so I'm not going to gripe too much, but, just the same, this was a frustrating outing for the Diamond Dogs. The Red and Black will return to action with five games next week, against Florida State in Tallahassee on Tuesday and Wednesday and against Arkansas in Fayetteville on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.