After claiming conference road victories over the Fighting Tigers on Friday and Saturday, the Diamond Dogs went into Sunday's contest in search of a sweep, knowing all the while that, although they had dropped one-run decisions on four of the season's first five Sundays, the Red and Black had turned it around by notching two-run victories on each of the previous three Sundays. Having enjoyed winning streaks of six games from March 15-22 and of seven games from March 29-April 6, the Classic City Canines took the field on Sunday hoping to claim an eight-game victory skein since April 11 and, although they did not get the win, neither did they take the loss.
It did not appear in the early going as though the two teams were in for a high-scoring slugfest. Gordon Beckham was the only Bulldog baserunner in the top of the first frame, as he reached on a D.J. LeMahieu throwing error after two outs had been recorded and was stranded when Rich Poythress struck out swinging, while a pair of two-out walks drawn by Derek Helenihi and Micah Gibbs in the bottom of the canto were negated when the L.S.U. right fielder was caught stealing.
The Diamond Dogs fared no better in the visitors' half of the second stanza, in which Adam Fuller was hit by a pitch with two outs already away and advanced no farther than first when Matt Cerione flied out to left field. It was not until the bottom of the inning that either team got on the board and the Fighting Tigers began their assault with a first-pitch single by Sean Ochinko after Blake Dean fouled out to lead off the canto.
After Ryan Schimpf was plunked and Taylor Davis struck out looking, Leon Landry sent a triple to left center field to plate a pair of runs. LeMahieu thereafter grounded out to conclude the proceedings with Louisiana State holding an early 2-0 advantage. The Red and Black made an effort to answer in the top of the third frame, when Ryan Peisel sent a one-out single through the right side and Matt Olson dropped a base hit into left field.
Ties aren't all bad; just ask a Florida State fan. (Image from Maurice Rivenbark, St. Petersburg Times.)
Although the Classic City Canines' cause was aided by a Dean fielding error which allowed the Georgia third baseman to advance to his usual position, Beckham struck out and Poythress grounded out to leave the run that would have halved the home team's lead standing 90 feet from home plate. The Bayou Bengals set about distancing themselves from their guests in the bottom of the inning, beginning with Michael Hollander's leadoff home run to left field.
It was at that point that Nathan Moreau was pulled in favor of Nick Montgomery. The Georgia starter had thrown 49 pitches to 11 batters, surrendering three hits, two walks, and three earned runs in the process. The Red and Black reliever thereafter gave up a base hit to Helenihi (which was mooted when the L.S.U. right fielder was caught stealing for the second time on Sunday afternoon), a double to Gibbs, and a home run to Dean.
Rather than try to pitch for the cycle by allowing the next Louisiana State batter to hit a triple, Montgomery elected instead to obtain outs from Ochinko and Schimpf to conclude a four-hit, three-run canto. After neither team produced a baserunner in the fourth frame, the Diamond Dogs opened the top of the fifth stanza with a first-pitch single up the middle by Cerione, who stole second and advanced to third on a Peisel groundout after Michael Demperio went down swinging. An Olson single scored the Georgia center fielder before Beckham's ensuing flyout ended the inning.
The home team, however, had no intention of allowing the Red and Black to chip into the L.S.U. lead. In the bottom of the canto, Montgomery surrendered a leadoff single to Hollander, a follow-up single to Helenihi, a first-pitch R.B.I. single to Gibbs to score Hollander, and an R.B.I. single to Dean to score Helenihi. Ochinko then reached on the fielder's choice that saw Gibbs thrown out at third before the hurling duties devolved upon Steve Esmonde.
Ties aren't all bad; just ask Pat Dye. (I hate Auburn.)
The latest Bulldog reliever took over for a predecessor who had crossed paths with 13 opposing batters, striking out two and walking none yet nevertheless conceding seven hits on 43 pitches and giving up four earned runs. Esmonde immediately elicited a pop-up from Schimpf before Davis reached on the fielder's choice that cut down Dean and ended a four-hit, two-run effort by Louisiana State.
Despite trailing 7-1, the Diamond Dogs continued to plug away in the visitors' half of the sixth stanza. A leadoff single by Poythress was followed by a Robbie O'Bryan base hit after Bryce Massanari went down swinging. Lyle Allen subsequently turned the first pitch thrown his way into a double to score two runs. Although the next two Georgia batters grounded out, the Red and Black had collected two runs on three hits to make matters more manageable.
Landry served notice that the Tigers would not back down in the home half of the inning, however, as the L.S.U. center fielder led off with a base hit. An ensuing bunt single by LeMahieu moved Landry to second then a sacrifice bunt by Hollander advanced both baserunners into scoring position and brought about the pitching switch that saw Justin Grimm sent to the mound.
Helenihi punched a single through the right side to plate Landry and LeMahieu while the Bayou Bengal right fielder took second on the throw. That maneuver evidently struck Gibbs as the thing to do, as he similarly sent a first-pitch single to center field and advanced to second on the throw, scoring Helenihi in the process. Although the next two Louisiana State batters struck out swinging, the home team had opened up a 10-3 lead on the strength of their four-hit, three-run frame.
See? When the other team leads by seven, a tie looks pretty good, doesn't it?
Nevertheless, the Classic City Canines simply would not surrender. The first pitch thrown to Peisel in the top of the seventh stanza was belted into center field for a base hit. The first pitch thrown to Olson was knocked into right field for the base hit that put runners at the corners. Beckham walked on a full count to load the bases. The first pitch thrown to Poythress was sent back through the left side for the base hit that brought home a pair of runs.
Beckham took third base when Jake Crane flied out in the next at-bat and O'Bryan drew the base on balls that forced a Louisiana State pitching change. When Allen reached first on the fielder's choice that put out O'Bryan at second, a throwing error by LeMahieu enabled the Georgia left fielder to advance and permitted not just Beckham but also Poythress to cross home plate. Cerione struck out with Allen in scoring position, but a three-hit, four-run canto aided by an L.S.U. error had the Diamond Dogs within three.
Grimm did not throw a called ball in the home half of the inning, striking out Schimpf and Landry on 0-2 pitches and coaxing a flyout from Davis with his initial offering to the Tiger designated hitter. Olson delivered a two-out home run to produce the only Bulldog hit in the top of the eighth frame and the Bayou Bengals generated only a trio of groundouts in the bottom of the stanza.
Georgia headed into the top of the ninth canto trailing by two. Following a leadoff flyout by Poythress, Crane was plunked and O'Bryan took advantage of the opportunity thus afforded, blasting a home run to right field to tie a game in which the Red and Black had trailed by seven. After Allen fouled out, Cerione drew a walk on a payoff pitch, but David Thoms grounded out on the first pitch he saw.
What'd I tell you? It's just like on Father's Day . . . it isn't until you get a tie that you realize it was what you wanted, anyway.
In the bottom of the final scheduled stanza, Alex McRee obtained outs from the first two batters he encountered before giving up a base hit to Ochinko. When Schimpf turned the next pitch into a groundout, however, the contest was headed for extra innings. Beckham drew a two-out walk in the top of the tenth frame and Poythress moved him over to second with a base hit, but, after the Georgia shortstop stole third, Crane went down swinging to strand the would-be go-ahead run.
Landry sent a one-out single up the middle in the home half of the canto and LeMahieu advanced him to second on a groundout, but, after Hollander was walked intentionally, Helenihi struck out looking. No Classic City Canine made it as far as first base in the top of the eleventh frame and, although National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award candidate Joshua Fields conceded a leadoff walk to Gibbs in the bottom of the inning, he retired the next three L.S.U. batters he saw.
The contest ended somewhat anticlimactically, as, after neither team produced a baserunner in the twelfth stanza, a conference rule concerning travel curfews compelled that the game be declared a tie. In order to allow visiting teams to return home in time---something the Diamond Dogs only barely were able to do, as they rushed directly from the stadium to the airport and boarded the plane while still in their baseball uniforms---league regulations required that no inning start after 4:00 p.m., so the twelfth frame's conclusion at 4:11 p.m. also marked the stopping point of the outing.
While a tie most often is an unsatisfactory thing, it is tough to feel too badly about Sunday afternoon's deadlock. Down 10-3 after six cantos, the Classic City Canines mounted a comeback to snarl the contest in a game in which they were out-hit by the home team (16-13). The Red and Black scored in the last five frames of regulation play while the bullpen conceded no runs, earned or otherwise, in the final six stanzas.
There's no shame in fighting to a tie. Heck, they even went and made a video game about tie fighters!
Louisiana State committed three errors while Georgia was not charged with so much as a single miscue. Although the first half-dozen hitters in the Bayou Bengal lineup (D.J. LeMahieu, Michael Hollander, Derek Helenihi, Micah Gibbs, Blake Dean, and Sean Ochinko) combined to go 13 for 31 with eight R.B.I. and four walks, the Diamond Dogs did their part at the plate, as well. Ryan Peisel (2 for 7), Matt Olson (4 for 7, 2 R.B.I.), Rich Poythress (3 for 6, 2 R.B.I.), and Robbie O'Bryan (2 for 3, 2 R.B.I.) all enjoyed multi-hit days on Sunday.
While the win would have been nice, the league-leading Red and Black were well served merely by not losing. With 15 games remaining and a dozen conference contests left on the slate, Georgia guaranteed itself of no worse than a .500 record overall by running its ledger to 27-12-1 and the Classic City Canines would have to lose literally every remaining S.E.C. outing to finish with a losing record in league play after extending their unbeaten streak to eight games in the outing that put the Diamond Dogs at 14-3-1 in conference clashes and kept them three and a half games in front in the Eastern Division.
Sunday afternoon wins by South Carolina over Ole Miss, Tennessee over Arkansas, Vanderbilt over Auburn (I hate Auburn), and Kentucky over Florida (the latter in a game in which the Gators were not so fortunate regarding the league's travel curfew rule) left the respective S.E.C. ledgers of the Gamecocks at 11-7, of the Commodores at 10-7, of the Gators, the Rebels, and the Volunteers at 10-8, and of the Wildcats at 9-9.
With series upcoming against fellow conference contenders Florida, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt on the next three weekends, the Diamond Dogs are in a prime position to vindicate their status as the team to beat atop the Southeastern Conference standings. Despite the indecisive outcome of Sunday afternoon's outing in Baton Rouge, the Red and Black demonstrated perseverance and character in battling back, and those qualities will serve the Classic City Canines well in the remaining games of what could be a special season of Georgia baseball.