After falling to the Gators in Gainesville on Saturday afternoon, the Diamond Dogs came into Sunday's outing needing a win to avoid their first S.E.C. series loss of the season. Facing a Florida squad that had gone 21-6 at home through the previous afternoon, the Red and Black brought to bear the 10-5-1 road record that made the Classic City Canines the lone league team to have posted a double-digit victory total in opponents' home parks. (Nine conference teams had losing road records through Saturday, including all six Western Division clubs.)
Fortuitous outcomes elsewhere in the Southeast on Saturday had allowed Georgia to maintain a four-game lead in the division in spite of the preceding afternoon's outcome, but, rather than count on the misfortunes of others, the visiting Bulldogs undertook to secure a victory for themselves, commencing with Matt Olson's one-out single in the top of the initial inning.
Although Gordon Beckham allowed a called third strike to pass him by, Olson swiped second in the hope of getting something going, but Rich Poythress flied out to strand the Red and Black right fielder in scoring position. In the home half of the first frame, Nathan Moreau extracted a groundout from Avery Barnes and a foulout from Josh Adams before surrendering a single to Cole Figueroa.
An ensuing single to center field from Brandon McArthur moved the Gator shortstop over to third, but Matt den Dekker went down swinging to keep the contest scoreless. Lyle Allen sent a one-out single up the middle in the top of the second stanza and was advanced when Robbie O'Bryan grounded out, but Matt Cerione subsequently went down swinging to leave another baserunner at second.
Florida first baseman Brandon McArthur went two for four on Sunday and batted in a trio of runs, so, if it's all the same to you, I'd just as soon he didn't return.
In the home half of the frame, Moreau retired the side in sequence on a groundout, a flyout, and a strikeout. The third canto got underway with matters snarled across the board, as neither team had either scored a run or committed an error and each squad had tallied two hits, but that balance changed in the visitors' half of the frame when Michael Demperio led off with a single up the middle.
Between the time Ryan Peisel struck out swinging and Olson struck out looking, though, Demperio was caught stealing and picked off. Jonathan Pigott walked to lead off the bottom of the canto before Barnes likewise drew a base on balls on four consecutive pitches. Moreau's next throw to home plate was returned to third base by Adams and, although the Florida second baseman made it safely to first base, Pigott was put out at third.
Figueroa's ensuing single to left field knotted up the hits at three per side and loaded the bases for McArthur, who doubled down the left field line to bring home a trio of runs. After den Dekker flied out, Moreau was pulled in favor of Dean Weaver, who proceeded to surrender an R.B.I. single to Jon Townsend.
Adding insult to injury, the Orange and Blue third baseman stole second, which enabled Townsend to advance to his accustomed position on the field when Dustin Bamberg turned a payoff pitch into a single. Mercifully, Teddy Foster grounded out to wrap up a four-hit, four-run inning for the home team.
After going one for four with more strikeouts than R.B.I. or walks on Sunday, the Florida designated hitter told reporters, "Bam! Berg!"
The Diamond Dogs had nothing to show for the visitors' half of the fourth frame except a two-out single by Bryce Massanari, which went to waste when Allen fouled out to bring Pigott up to bat in the bottom of the canto. Weaver elicited a groundout from the Gator right fielder and persuaded Barnes to strike out before surrendering a base hit to Adams and a walk to Figueroa, both on payoff pitches. Fortunately, McArthur flied out to strand both baserunners.
Cerione sent an 0-2 pitch into left field for a one-out single in the top of the fifth inning and promptly stole second. Demperio drew a walk to join him on the basepaths, but Peisel hit into the fielder's choice that cut down the Georgia second baseman at his familiar position yet put runners at the corners. The Bulldog third baseman swiped second to put two runners in scoring position for Olson, but the Red and Black right fielder worked the count full before striking out to squander a golden scoring opportunity.
Townsend reached on a fielding error with one out in the bottom of the canto and stole second with two outs away, but Foster's groundout in the next at-bat kept the 4-0 score from getting any more out of hand. The Classic City Canines went in order in the top of the sixth stanza on a flyout, a strikeout, and a lineout.
Weaver retired the first two batters in the home half of the frame before issuing a walk to Adams on a payoff pitch. Figueroa doubled to left center field to move the Gator second baseman over to third, but Adams was thrown out at home to end the inning. Allen led off the top of the seventh canto with a base hit through the right side and O'Bryan followed that up by drawing a walk.
Orange and Blue second baseman Josh Adams collected two hits in four at-bats and tallied two R.B.I., a home run, and a walk on Sunday, but, thanks to the surviving letters from his wife Abigail, he is remembered chiefly as the most henpecked Founding Father.
Cerione doubled to left center field to cut the Diamond Dogs' deficit in hits to 8-7 and in runs to 4-1 when Allen crossed home plate. What looked like a budding rally took a considerable hit when Demperio flied into the unassisted double play that cut down the lead runner and left Cerione all alone on the basepaths.
This brought Josh Edmondson to the mound to succeed Florida starter Patrick Keating and the Gator reliever gave up a run-scoring single to Peisel before inducing Olson to ground out to wrap up a three-hit, two-run stanza to even the hits at eight apiece and cut the Saurians' lead in half. Alex McRee was brought in to pitch the home half of the frame and he coaxed a groundout from McArthur before conceding a base hit to den Dekker then walking Townsend on four straight pitches.
Bamberg flied out without advancing either baserunner but Foster dropped an R.B.I. single into left center field to plate den Dekker before Pigott hit into a canto-concluding fielder's choice with the home team holding a 5-2 advantage on the scoreboard. The Diamond Dogs went three up and three down in the top of the eighth inning.
Barnes led off the home half of the frame by drawing a walk and Adams drove one out to left center field to put two more runs across for the Gators. After Figueroa grounded out, Clayton Pisani put the first pitch he saw into play for a single and swiped second so that den Dekker could move him over to third with a groundout. This brought Justin Grimm to the mound and he walked Townsend on four consecutive pitches before striking out Bryson Barber.
When asked about Bryson Barber's strikeout in his lone at-bat as a pinch hitter, the three other members of his shop quartet replied, "He di-hid fiiiiiiiine!" (Image from Scales of the Unexpected.)
The Georgia faithful were spared the dashed expectations produced by false hope when the Red and Black went quietly in the top of the ninth stanza on a pop-up, a groundout, and a strikeout to cause the Diamond Dogs not only to lose a second straight 7-2 game, but also to come up short in an S.E.C. series for the first time this season.
Sunday's game against the Gators was everything Saturday's was, only worse. The Red and Black were out-hit 12-8 and the first four batters in the Georgia order (Ryan Peisel, Matt Olson, Gordon Beckham, and Rich Poythress) between them went just two for 16 with one R.B.I., no walks, and five strikeouts. Bulldog starter Nathan Moreau took the loss after lasting less than three innings and allowing four hits, two walks, and four earned runs to the 14 batters he faced. Alex McRee conceded three earned runs in relief after the Classic City Canines had pulled to within striking distance of their hosts and the Georgia pitching staff issued seven walks while tallying only five strikeouts.
Fortunately, Sunday's news was not all bad for the Red and Black, as South Carolina lost to L.S.U., Tennessee lost to Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt lost to Kentucky, leaving Georgia (15-5-1) with the division lead over the Gators (12-9) by three and a half games, over the Commodores (11-9) by four games, and over the Gamecocks, the Volunteers, and the Wildcats (each 11-10) by four and a half games apiece in conference action. After being swept in a doubleheader in Oxford on Saturday, the Western Division-leading Rebels also fell to 11-10 in league outings heading into Mississippi's series with the Diamond Dogs this coming weekend.
After the long grind of 45 games in 66 days (including Georgia's exhibition outing against the Atlanta Braves on February 27), the Red and Black appeared dog tired against a Florida squad that prudently elected not to schedule any midweek contests prior to the Saurians' series with the Classic City Canines. Now Georgia will get a few days off before hosting Ole Miss beginning next Friday and, with nine conference games to go, the Diamond Dogs will need to be physically rested and mentally ready for the stretch run that could culminate in a conference crown.