The Diamond Dogs awoke on Saturday morning in possession of a 26-12 record, with fully half of their wins yet only a quarter of their losses coming in conference action. Georgia led the league with a 13-3 S.E.C. ledger, putting the Red and Black three games in front of a second-place South Carolina squad over which the Classic City Canines held the head-to-head tiebreaker and to which David Perno's club had dealt three of the Gamecocks' six league losses heading into Saturday's action.
The Bulldogs, one of four Eastern Division teams with an active winning streak of at least three games as of the conclusion of Friday evening's conference contests, put their S.E.C.-best 8-4 road record on the line in a second outing at Louisiana State which had the potential to settle the visitors' series with the Fighting Tigers. Despite a furious late rally by the Bayou Bengals, Georgia survived to claim a one-run decision and win the Red and Black's sixth Southeastern Conference series in as many tries this season.
The first two Classic City Canines to step into the batter's box in the top of the first canto registered outs, but Gordon Beckham sent a long ball out to left field for his N.C.A.A.-leading 18th home run of the season to give the Diamond Dogs an early advantage ere Rich Poythress stared at strike three.
In the home half of the opening stanza, Stephen Dodson retired the first two batters before surrendering a meaningless single to Blake Dean, who was stranded at first base when Derek Helenihi went down swinging. Lyle Allen sent a one-out base hit to left field in the top of the second frame, but, after Joey Lewis struck out looking, the Georgia left fielder was caught stealing to end the inning.
Louisiana State left fielder Blake Dean went three for four with one walk on Saturday, providing yet another performance to confirm what "Giant" and "Rebel Without a Cause" proved; namely, that Dean is one of the finest young talents of his generation.
The Tigers went three up and three down in the bottom of the stanza before Matt Cerione started the visitors' half of the third frame with a single to right field. The Bulldog center fielder was picked off following Michael Demperio's ensuing strikeout and, although Ryan Peisel reached first on a wild pitch after striking out, Matt Olson grounded out to wrap up the inning.
All L.S.U. had to show for the bottom of the canto was a two-out single by Ryan Schimpf which went to waste when Michael Hollander struck out swinging, but the Red and Black fared rather better in the top of the fourth frame. An error by Hollander allowed Beckham to reach base and advance to second, after which Poythress drew a base on balls. Bryce Massanari subsequently flied out to move the Georgia shortstop over to third.
After Poythress took second on a wild pitch, Allen grounded out to move the Bulldog first baseman to third and score Beckham. Lewis thereafter struck out swinging. Dean sent a leadoff single into center field to begin the home half of the stanza, but the next three Louisiana State batters all earned outs and only one of them managed to advance the baserunner as far as second base.
In the top of the fifth frame, for the second time in three innings, Cerione led off a canto with a single to right field. Demperio sacrificed him over to second and Peisel's subsequent groundout advanced Cerione to third. When Olson reached on an error by Matt Clark, the Georgia center fielder scored an unearned run. Beckham thereafter sent his 19th jack over the left field wall to plate two more runs, whereupon Poythress was plunked and Massanari walked. Although Allen grounded out, the Diamond Dogs nevertheless had claimed a 5-0 advantage.
Bayou Bengal third baseman Michael Hollander was responsible for batting in three of his team's eight runs, which helps explain why Nigel Powers feels the way he does about people who are intolerant of other people's cultures and Hollanders.
A leadoff single by Micah Gibbs in the bottom of the canto was squandered when the next three L.S.U. batters struck out, flied out, and grounded out in sequence. Lewis and Cerione opened the top of the sixth stanza with consecutive singles, so, when Demperio reached on a fielder's choice, he produced an out while also batting in a run. Peisel sent a single into left field, Olson grounded out, and Beckham drew an intentional walk to load the bases for Poythress, who grounded out to leave the Red and Black holding a 6-0 lead.
An error by Peisel allowed Hollander to reach base in the bottom of the inning. Subsequent singles by Dean and D.J. LeMahieu plated the Tiger third baseman and, although the remaining Louisiana State hitters produced nothing but outs, the home team at long last was on the board. Georgia undertook to answer in the top of the seventh stanza, starting with Massanari's leadoff single to center field.
Although Allen watched strike three sail by, Robbie O'Bryan reached on a fielder's choice and Massanari advanced as far as third base on an error. Cerione's ensuing sacrifice fly brought the Bulldog catcher home before Demperio grounded out to wrap up a one-hit, one-run, one-error canto.
After the Bayou Bengals managed only a two-out single by Leon Landry in the bottom of the seventh frame, the Red and Black came back up to bat in the top of the eighth stanza. Peisel reached on an error and stole second following an Olson pop-up. Beckham walked then Poythress flied out to advance Peisel to third. A Massanari single brought the Georgia third baseman home before Adam Fuller grounded out to send the contest to the home half of the penultimate inning with the visitors holding a commanding 8-1 advantage.
An 8-1 lead in a Georgia baseball game? Where have I heard that before?
Justin Earls came on to pitch for Dodson, who had gone seven innings, faced 28 batters, tallied five strikeouts, surrendered no walks, and allowed seven hits while conceding not so much as a single earned run. The Red and Black reliever was not so fortunate, as, after Hollander was thrown out at first, Dean and Helenihi drew back-to-back walks and LeMahieu sent a single into left field to load the bases for Sean Ochinko.
The L.S.U. pinch hitter's sacrifice fly scored Dean and Gibbs's single to left field plated Helenihi. A Taylor Davis triple brought home LeMahieu and Gibbs, whereupon walks were issued to Nicholas Pontiff and Schimpf in succession. Dean Weaver was sent to the mound to stop the bleeding, but he proceeded to surrender a triple to Hollander which scored three runs. Mercifully, Dean flied out to right field to conclude a four-hit, seven-run frame which, amazingly, left the game tied at eight runs apiece.
The Diamond Dogs came up to bat in the top of the final frame knowing that they had squandered a huge lead and now found themselves facing the prospect of extra innings in a hostile environment against a team that had just exploded offensively. After O'Bryan looked at a called third strike, Cerione registered a base hit and Demperio sacrificed him over to second. With two outs away, Peisel tacked on a single of his own to bring Cerione home and enable the visitors to retake the lead before Olson grounded out to give the Tigers their final chance.
Weaver remained in the game in the bottom of the frame and he did his job without fanfare. Helenihi flied out, LaMahieu flied out, and Ochinko grounded out to keep the tying run from making it even as far as first base. The Diamond Dogs had weathered the storm, laying claim to their tenth straight S.E.C. victory to run their record in league play to 14-3.
The L.S.U. pinch hitter and substitute first baseman went without a hit in his lone official at-bat and recorded the final out of the game; in short, he came and he gave without taking, and we sent him away, Ochinko.
While I am more than a little put out with Justin Earls for his performance---nine batters faced, no strikeouts recorded, four walks and three hits conceded, and seven earned runs allowed in two-thirds of one-half of one inning---I am proud of the Classic City Canines for confirming the axiom that slow and steady wins the race.
Georgia scored at least one run in seven different stanzas, including each of the last six, opportunistically taking advantage of four L.S.U. errors and out-hitting the opposition by a 12-11 margin on the strength of solid days by Ryan Peisel (2 for 6, 1 R.B.I.), Gordon Beckham (2 for 3, 3 R.B.I., 2 walks), Bryce Massanari (2 for 4, 1 R.B.I., 1 walk), and Matt Cerione (4 for 4, 1 R.B.I.).
Last year, this would have been a loss. Playing in Baton Rouge, where the Diamond Dogs had not won a series since 2000, the Red and Black saw a large lead dissipate in one awful inning, in a manner reminiscent of 2007's dreadful season-ending meltdown. This time, the Classic City Canines methodically generated the requisite run 90 feet at a time when the chips were down, claiming a one-run victory for the fourth time in their last dozen outings.
Saturday afternoon also saw Ole Miss overcoming South Carolina to give the Rebels and the Gamecocks identical 10-7 ledgers in league play, so the Red and Black gained a game in the standings on their nearest current competitor, giving Georgia a four-game cushion heading into Sunday's outing, in which the Classic City Canines will be shooting for their third straight S.E.C. series sweep.