When the Diamond Dogs arrived at Florida's McKethan Stadium on Saturday afternoon, S.E.C. East-leading Georgia was in possession of a four-game edge over second-place Vanderbilt and the Red and Black stood five and a half games in front of the Gators. With a chance to claim their 30th victory of the season and win their seventh conference series of the campaign, the Classic City Canines, winners of 16 of their last 19 outings, gave the pitching assignment to regular Saturday starter Stephen Dodson. Alas, Saturday was the day the team finally came up short in an S.E.C. showdown.
Georgia went three up and three down in the top of the first frame and, with Dodson on the hill in the home half of the inning, Avery Barnes reached first base on a Gordon Beckham fielding error. Fortunately, Josh Adams thereafter grounded into a double play and Cole Figueroa just plain grounded out to conclude a hitless opening canto.
In the visitors' half of the second stanza, Bryce Massanari sent a one-out single up the middle and advanced to second base after Lyle Allen was hit by a pitch. The Georgia catcher was stranded in scoring position after Joey Lewis grounded into a double play to bring the Saurians back up to the plate in the bottom of the inning. Matt den Dekker registered a one-out single and stole two bases, enabling Jon Townsend to bring him home from third with a groundout. Bryson Barber recorded the Gators' third groundout of the canto to send the contest to the third frame with the home team holding a 1-0 lead.
The Red and Black were retired in sequence by Florida starting hurler Stephen Locke in the top of the stanza and Dodson returned the favor by sitting down all three Orange and Blue batters to cross his path in the bottom of the canto. Although Beckham drew a one-out walk on four straight pitches in the visitors' half of the fourth frame, the Bulldog shortstop was not advanced either by Rich Poythress, who flied out, or by Massanari, who reached on a fielder's choice to end the inning.
Florida pitcher Stephen Locke threw a complete game, was credited with the victory, allowed two earned runs on eight hits and one walk, and wrote a couple of treatises on government while he was at it.
The home half of the canto began with a first-pitch single by Adams, who was moved over to second by a subsequent base hit from Figueroa. After Brandon McArthur advanced both baserunners with a sacrifice bunt, den Dekker was walked intentionally to load the bases for Townsend, who doubled to right field to plate a pair of runs.
A passed ball allowed den Dekker to score and Barber belted a double down the right field line to plate Townsend. By the time Teddy Foster flied out and Jonathan Pigott struck out to end the inning, the Gators held a 5-1 edge in hits and a 5-0 lead in runs.
Allen led off the top of the fifth frame with a single to center field, but Lewis immediately thereafter grounded into the double play that cleared the basepaths. Matt Cerione then returned a base hit up the middle and Michael Demperio followed that up with the third single of the stanza for the Diamond Dogs. Ryan Peisel next added the fourth base hit of the inning to send Demperio to third and bring Cerione home to knot the hits at five apiece and, more importantly, put the Red and Black on the board.
After Matt Olson flied out to conclude a four-hit, one-run frame, Justin Earls was sent to the mound as the home half of the canto commenced. The Georgia reliever succeeded Dodson, who had gone four innings, surrendered five hits (two of which were doubles), and allowed five earned runs. Earls proceeded to award a base on balls to Barnes with his first four throws to home plate before permitting the Florida left fielder to take second on a wild pitch.
It wasn't walking the bases loaded on twelve straight pitches, but it was close.
Adams also drew a walk on four pitches, after which Earls not only threw his first strike, he secured his first out as Figueroa put down the sacrifice bunt that advanced both baserunners. McArthur then sent a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Barnes, and den Dekker's ensuing single (coupled with a fielding error by Demperio) brought Adams home to give the Gators a 6-5 lead in hits and a 7-1 advantage in runs.
Earls then walked Townsend on four straight pitches, only, this time, it was deliberate, in order that he could pitch to Barber, from whom he secured an inning-ending groundout. Beckham evened up the hitting once more with a leadoff single through the left side in the visitors' half of the sixth stanza and, although Poythress lined out in the next at-bat, the Georgia shortstop proceeded to steal second.
Massanari grounded out on a payoff pitch to move Beckham over to third, but Allen grounded out to keep the score 7-1. Nick Montgomery succeeded Earls on the mound in the bottom of the canto after the initial Georgia reliever had gone one inning, walked three, allowed one hit, and conceded two runs. The latest Bulldog hurler promptly surrendered a leadoff single to Foster.
Pigott fouled out to Massanari on a first-pitch bunt, but a throwing error by the Red and Black catcher allowed his Gator counterpart to make it as far as third before Barnes lined out on Montgomery's very next pitch. After Adams drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch, Figueroa put the ball into play but was thrown out at first to keep the bloodletting from becoming any worse.
What we have here is a wall with some handwriting on it.
A first-pitch groundout by Adam Fuller began the seventh frame and Cerione continued the canto by turning the second pitch thrown his way into a groundout before Demperio worked the count to 2-2 en route to a groundout of his own. Montgomery's first pitch to den Dekker in the bottom of the inning was returned up the middle for a one-out base hit and, after the Orange and Blue center fielder swiped second, Townsend grounded out to advance him to third. Mercifully, Barber grounded out to prevent matters from getting any farther out of hand for the Classic City Canines.
The top of the order came back up to bat for the Red and Black in the top of the eighth inning, although this initially appeared to do little good: Peisel and Olson each flied out, although Beckham sent a solo shot to left center field to cut the home team's lead in hits to 8-7 and in runs to 7-2. Any hope that this marked the start of a Diamond Dog rally was squelched when Poythress grounded out in the ensuing at-bat, however.
Montgomery plunked Foster to begin the home half of the stanza and Pigott knocked a base hit up the middle to move the Gator catcher into scoring position. Barnes fouled out on an unavailing bunt attempt and Adams became the second straight Saurian to record an out on the first pitch thrown his way when the Florida second baseman flied out to left field. A first-pitch Figueroa foulout concluded the canto.
The Diamond Dogs had one final chance in the visitors' half of the ninth frame, which Massanari began by popping up on the first pitch he saw. Although Allen singled through the left side in the next at-bat, the contest concluded, appropriately, with the ground ball from Fuller which was turned into the double play that ended the afternoon.
. . . And some are rained out.
Well, you can't win 'em all. Prior to April 26, the Diamond Dogs had not lost a conference contest since March 28, so, if the Red and Black had to go down, they might as well have gotten all the bad baseball out of their systems in a single game. The Classic City Canines committed three errors---the season's seventh each for Gordon Beckham, Michael Demperio, and Bryce Massanari, respectively---while their hosts were not guilty of so much as a single miscue.
Despite being out-hit only narrowly (9-8), Georgia fell by a five-run margin. Oddly enough, the Gators stranded more baserunners (8) than the Bulldogs (5), although this may have been due to the fact that the Red and Black collected only three hits after the fifth frame, all of which came in different cantos.
The visitors' starting pitcher lasted only four innings, the bullpen gave up four walks without tallying a strikeout, and the staff as a whole gave up six earned runs. Despite getting decent days from Gordon Beckham and Lyle Allen, each of whom went two for three, the Diamond Dogs permitted Jon Townsend to bat in three runs and allowed Matt den Dekker to collect three hits and steal three bases.
It was a bad afternoon all the way around, but even the best teams are going to have those from time to time. In spite of the loss on Saturday, Georgia is 29-13-1 overall, 15-4-1 in S.E.C. play, 9-2 against the Eastern Division, and 10-5-1 on the road. What's more, the day saw a win by Tennessee, a loss by South Carolina, and a Vanderbilt setback at the hands of Kentucky. These results left the Commodores at 11-8; the Gamecocks, the Gators, and the Volunteers at 11-9; and the Wildcats at 10-10 in conference action. Consequently, Georgia remains in first place in the Eastern Division by four games and the Diamond Dogs will take the field on Sunday with another chance to win the series with the Saurians.