(Ere I get to the Diamond Dogs' outing against Kentucky on Friday evening, I feel it incumbent upon me to make an ancillary point regarding S.E.C. baseball. Regular readers of SB Nation weblogs know that Jay Coulter does a terrific job covering Auburn over at Track 'Em Tigers, but he has recognized the need to bring in extra authors to focus on his school's many sports more comprehensively. This was a good move and one of the new additions is Jay "Big Country" Gibson, who penned a very solid piece on Tiger baseball. While pausing to praise the Jays and their coevals at Track 'Em Tigers, though, I must, in the shopworn spirit of stereotyping rival fan bases, quote the following passage from the posting linked to, supra:
We welcome our new neighbors from Phenix City, but not without a little good-natured ribbing about the sort of university where putting 5 + 1 + 1 = 9 on a test earns you a passing grade . . . and perhaps a sociology degree.)
Cue the Jim Harrick, Jr., how-many-points-does-a-three-point-basket-count comments from Auburn message board posters in three . . . two . . . one . . .
The Wildcats came into their weekend series with the Red and Black fresh off of three straight wins (including a twelve-inning victory over Louisville on Tuesday) and sporting a 7-5 conference mark that had the Blue and White in a two-way tie for third in the division and in a three-way tie for third in the league as a whole. Kentucky also boasted the S.E.C.'s best overall ledger at 26-5, but their success was attained mostly at home, where the Bat Cats were a stellar 21-1.
U.K. arrived in Athens as a team that was 1-2 against the top 25, 1-2 against the Eastern Division, and 3-4 on the road. The Wildcats had yet to win an S.E.C. series outside of Lexington when they came up to bat against Trevor Holder in the top of the first frame on Friday night. Holder retired the first two Kentucky batters he faced before surrendering a single to Sawyer Carroll. The ensuing Blue and White batter went down swinging to strand the evening's first baserunner.
A similar pattern was evident in the home half of the canto, as Ryan Peisel and Matt Olson began by flying out in succession but Gordon Beckham and Rich Poythress thereafter drew back-to-back bases on balls. Likewise, Bryce Massanari hit into the fielder's choice that ended the inning.
No Bat Cat made it as far as first base in the visitors' half of the second stanza and the Diamond Dogs also went in order in the bottom of the frame. Following a Chris Wade groundout at the outset of the third canto, however, Marcus Nidiffer dropped a double into left field and a base hit by Keenan Wiley advanced the Kentucky catcher to third. Collin Cowgill struck out, but Carroll collected his second single of the game, scoring Nidiffer in the process. When Wiley tried for home, he was thrown out by Michael Demperio.
After having been named National Player of the Week and a member of the National All-Star Lineup earlier in the week, Kentucky center fielder Collin Cowgill went one for four, struck out twice, and neither drew a walk nor batted in a run on Friday, confirming once again that even Cowgills get the blues.
The Georgia second baseman followed up his solid play in the field with a leadoff single in the home half of the inning. Peisel moved Demperio over to second on a groundout and, after Olson went down swinging, Beckham was walked intentionally. Although the free pass drawn by Poythress was not deliberate, it still loaded the bases for Massanari, who allowed a called third strike to pass by him.
Chris McClendon led off the top of the fourth frame with a base hit to left field and Brian Spear followed that up with a single of his own. The next two Wildcats struck out in sequence before the Kentucky third baseman was caught stealing to keep the Blue and White from building on their lead. All the Classic City Canines had to show for the home half of the canto was a two-out single by Matt Cerione which was rendered moot when the Georgia center fielder was caught stealing.
Holder sat down in succession each of the Kentucky batters he faced in the top of the fifth frame and the Red and Black finally got on the board in the home half of the stanza. Although Demperio popped up and Peisel grounded out in the first two at-bats in the bottom of the inning, Olson registered a double, prompting the Bluegrass State Felines once again to give the Bulldog shortstop a base on balls on purpose.
Poythress made the Wildcats pay for that decision by belting an R.B.I. single into right field to tie the contest before Massanari flied out to end the home team's turn at the plate. Cowgill undertook to answer the Georgia score with a leadoff single in the top of the sixth frame and, despite the fact that the next two Bat Cats recorded outs, Spear doubled to bring the Kentucky center fielder home and allow the visitors to retake the lead. Ryan Wilkes proceeded to end the inning after the Wildcat first baseman advanced to third on a wild pitch.
The foregoing wild pitch was brought to you by Rick Vaughn of the Cleveland Indians and the California Penal League.
A Joey Lewis single to center field marked the beginning of the bottom of the canto and Lyle Allen sacrificed him over to second base. A Cerione single moved the Red and Black catcher to third and a Demperio walk loaded the bases. This prompted a Kentucky pitching change, which proved to be a prudent move when new Wildcat hurler Aaron Lovett played a part both in throwing out Lewis in his attempt to steal home and in striking out Peisel.
The Blue and White went three up and three down in the top of the seventh stanza and the Diamond Dogs went right back to work in the home half of the frame. Olson led off with a base hit and the Bat Cats' subsequent decision to pitch to Beckham turned out to be ill-advised when the Georgia shortstop belted a double into left field to tie the game. Beckham thereafter took third base on an error, so, after Poythress struck out, Massanari was able to plate the go-ahead run with a groundout.
A Lewis walk went for naught when Allen flied out to right field and the outing proceeded to the eighth inning, which began with a Red and Black pitching change. Holder hit the showers after going seven frames in which he faced 27 batters, recorded nine strikeouts, allowed no walks, and surrendered eight hits (including a couple of doubles) but conceded only a pair of earned runs.
Justin Earls came on in relief in the visitors' half of the eighth canto and he retired the side without undue fanfare. The Classic City Canines endeavored to build on their lead in the bottom of the stanza, starting with a leadoff walk by Cerione. Although Demperio sacrificed the baserunner over to second, the next two batters flied out to strand a would-be insurance run in scoring position.
It's always good to have insurance.
As it turned out, it did not matter. Joshua Fields was called upon to pitch the top of the ninth inning and the results were altogether predictable: McClendon stared at a called third strike, Spear grounded out, and Wilkes flied out to render the home half of the frame superfluous.
After a couple of rough outings earlier in the week, this game was exactly what the Diamond Dogs needed heading back into conference play. Although Kentucky's Sawyer Carroll and Brian Spear each went two for four with one R.B.I. on Friday night, no other Bat Cats collected multiple hits or batted in any runs. The Blue and White failed to produce so much as a single baserunner in five of the nine innings and U.K. managed only two hits after the fourth frame. The Wildcats struck out a dozen times but did not walk once.
Ryan Peisel was atypically unproductive, neither drawing a walk nor recording a hit, but Matt Olson went two for five and scored a couple of runs, Gordon Beckham walked three times and batted in a run in his one official at-bat, and Matt Cerione showed some spark by drawing a base on balls and going two for three. All three Red and Black pitchers put forth solid efforts in a game in which both teams collected eight hits apiece and the Classic City Canines played error-free baseball.
The win gave first-place Georgia a 10-3 ledger in league play on a night that saw the second-place Gators falling to 8-5 in conference action in a home loss to Arkansas, so, while Friday's game fell somewhat short of perfection (as attested to by the fact that the Classic City Canines left eleven men on base), it nevertheless represented a fine start to an S.E.C. series that needed to begin well in order to erase the unpleasant experience that was the Bulldogs' midweek slump.