On Friday night in Baton Rouge, the Diamond Dogs put their 25-12 overall ledger and their league-leading 12-3 conference mark on the line in the first game of a weekend-long S.E.C. showdown with Louisiana State. Winners of twelve of their previous 14 games, including eight straight conference outings, the Red and Black traveled to the Pelican State after having pulled out a trio of one-run games and five more two-run decisions since April 1 . . . no foolin'.
Awaiting the Classic City Canines there was a Bayou Bengal club that came into the game wounded following a Wednesday night loss to the New Orleans Privateers. L.S.U. sat at 6-9 in the league and three games out of first place in the Western Division, but the Fighting Tigers boasted a 19-6 record at home, even though they had gone 1-5 against Eastern Division opposition and 2-4 against ranked teams. Playing in their own park proved unavailing for the Bayou Bengals, who fell 6-3 in a game in which the visitors held the lead throughout.
The first frame commenced with Blake Martin on the hill for L.S.U. and Ryan Peisel in the batter's box for the Bulldogs. The pitcher got the better of their initial encounter, as the Georgia third baseman turned a 3-2 pitch into a groundout to begin the top of the canto. After Matt Olson flied out, Gordon Beckham drew a base on balls, which went to waste when Rich Poythress popped up on a payoff pitch.
In the home half of the inning, Trevor Holder surrendered a leadoff walk to Ryan Schimpf. Following a Michael Hollander pop-up, the L.S.U. second baseman was caught stealing. Blake Dean then watched a called third strike pass by to end a hitless opening stanza for both combatants.
Louisiana State second baseman Ryan Schimpf went without a hit or an R.B.I. in three official at-bats on Friday, striking out twice in the process, all of which just goes to show why Schimpf was such a poor substitute for Moe.
The first two Bulldog batters in the top of the second canto grounded out, but Lyle Allen registered a single in the third at-bat of the inning and took second on a Hollander throwing error. A Michael Demperio triple brought the Red and Black left fielder home before Matt Cerione struck out looking.
After the Fighting Tigers went three up and three down in the home half of the stanza, the Classic City Canines came back up to bat in the top of the third frame. Once again, the first two Diamond Dogs to stride to the plate registered outs, but Beckham sent the first pitch thrown his way into left center field for a double before taking third base on a wild pitch.
Poythress's ensuing double down the left field line plated a run to give the visitors a 2-0 advantage. Bryce Massanari walked in the next at-bat, but Joey Lewis struck out to strand a pair of baserunners. Holder induced all three Bayou Bengals he faced in the bottom of the inning to ground out and the Red and Black similarly were sat down in sequence in the top of the fourth frame.
The first two batters in the home half of the canto recorded outs before Dean broke up the no-hitter with a single. Derek Helenihi followed that up by sending Holder's very next pitch through the right side for another base hit, but D.J. LeMahieu flied out to right field to strand both baserunners. When the visitors came back up to bat in the top of the fifth stanza, Peisel put the first pitch he saw into play for a base hit.
What? You mean there's no rule that requires there to be this number of outs before anyone is allowed to reach base?
Although the Bulldog third baseman was cut down at second when Olson reached on a fielder's choice, a wild pitch sent the Georgia right fielder into scoring position and Beckham was walked intentionally to bring up Poythress, who grounded out after the Red and Black shortstop stole second and proceeded to third on a Micah Gibbs error while Olson stole third and scored.
A Massanari single brought Beckham home then Lewis drew a walk to put two men aboard for Allen, who went down swinging. Perhaps hoping to atone for his earlier miscue, Gibbs sent a one-out single up the middle in the bottom of the canto, only to have Leon Landry's two-out single culminate in an out when the L.S.U. catcher tried to take third base.
The Diamond Dogs sought to build on their lead in the top of the sixth stanza. With two outs already away, Peisel and Olson collected consecutive singles before Beckham drew a walk to load the bases. Poythress struck out swinging to leave unaltered the visitors' 8-4 lead in hits and 4-0 edge in runs. That status likewise did not change in the home half of the inning, which saw the Tigers go three up and three down.
No Diamond Dog made it as far as first base in the visitors' half of the seventh frame, but Louisiana State began to get untracked in the bottom of the stanza. LeMahieu followed up on a Helenihi groundout with a base hit to right field. Matt Clark sent another single down the right field line to move the L.S.U. shortstop to third. After Gibbs was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Holder surrendered the walk to Taylor Davis that brought LeMahieu home, put the Bayou Bengals on the board, and sent Alex McRee to the mound.
So much for the shutout.
The first two pitches thrown to Sean Ochinko by the Georgia reliever were balls and the third was sent into left field for the base hit that scored Clark. Schimpf then obligingly allowed a called third strike to sail by and Hollander flied out to right field to conclude a two-run, three-hit canto.
It initially appeared as though the Diamond Dogs had no intention even of attempting to offer an answer in the top of the eighth frame, as Demperio struck out and Cerione flied out in the first two at-bats of the inning. Then, however, Peisel worked the count full before drawing a walk and Olson sent the next pitch right back up the middle for the base hit that put runners at the corners for Beckham, who put down a bunt, reached on a fielding error by the L.S.U. pitcher, and took second on a throwing error by the L.S.U. pitcher while Peisel and Olson crossed home plate to score a pair of unearned runs.
A wild pitch allowed Beckham to make it as far as third, but Poythress's ensuing groundout stranded him there with the Red and Black holding a 6-2 advantage. The Tigers once again sought to have something to say about that in the home half of the stanza, however, as LeMahieu and Clark drew successive two-out walks, permitting Gibbs to score a run with a base hit up the middle.
With Georgia now holding a 6-3 lead, David Perno prudently sent Joshua Fields to the mound, where he coaxed an inning-ending groundout from Davis. Massanari led off the top of the ninth canto with a base hit to right field and was replaced on the basepaths by a pinch runner, Adam Fuller. After Lewis flied out and Allen fouled out, Fuller tried to swipe second and was caught stealing.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you . . . Joshua Fields.
Now it was up to Fields to shut the door in the bottom of the final scheduled stanza. The Bulldog closer struck out Johnny Dishon before walking Schimpf. After Hollander flied out, the L.S.U. second baseman stole his accustomed base and, although Dean struck out swinging, he nevertheless managed to reach first on the wild pitch that sent Schimpf to third. The Tiger left fielder proceeded to steal second and Helenihi walked on four straight pitches to load the bases and bring the potential winning run to the plate. Sufficient dramatic tension thus having been created, Fields struck out LeMahieu to secure the Diamond Dogs' ninth consecutive conference victory and the Georgia closer's record-setting 34th career save.
This was a solid outing for a Red and Black squad that may struggle during the week but puts it all together on the weekends. Georgia never trailed and refused to let Louisiana State climb back into the game. The Diamond Dogs out-hit their hosts (10-8) while the Bayou Bengals committed more errors (4-0) and stranded more baserunners (11-10) than their guests. Ryan Peisel (2 for 4), Matt Olson (2 for 5), and Bryce Massanari (2 for 4, 1 R.B.I.) all had multi-hit days, while Gordon Beckham (1 for 2) drew three walks and scored a pair of runs. Five of the Classic City Canines' six runs were scored with two outs already against them.
Trevor Holder notched his fifth win of the season, going just over six frames and facing 26 batters while striking out three, walking two, conceding six hits, and allowing two earned runs. The bullpen gave up one earned run and Joshua Fields once again did not permit a hit or a run. L.S.U.'s leadoff hitter (Ryan Schimpf), cleanup hitter (Derek Helenihi), and designated hitter (Taylor Davis) collectively went one for ten with one R.B.I. and four strikeouts.
Elsewhere in the league, South Carolina defeated Ole Miss to improve to 10-6 in conference play and drop the Rebels to 9-7, while Kentucky got the better of Florida to give the Wildcats an 8-8 S.E.C. ledger, as compared to the Gators' 9-7 mark. These results are consequential because Georgia already holds the tiebreakers over the Palmetto State Poultry and the Bluegrass State Felines by virtue of the Classic City Canines' series sweeps over both of those division rivals, while the Red and Black will take on Florida and Mississippi on the next two weekends. First, though, they must face L.S.U. again on Saturday afternoon with a sixth straight S.E.C. series victory on the line.