Fresh off of a two-game sweep of a Clemson squad that boasts the "very well put together" Kyle Parker, the Diamond Dogs hosted South Carolina for the first outing of a weekend set with the Gamecocks on Saturday after what originally had been scheduled as a Friday evening opener was postponed due to inclement weather.
Both S.E.C. East squads came into the initial contest of the hastily-scheduled doubleheader sporting 6-3 conference ledgers which had them tied for second place in the division and boasting a league-leading seven wins apiece over top 25 opponents, a category into which ninth-ranked South Carolina fell. The Red and Black arrived at the ballpark having won two-thirds of their previous home games on the season (10-5) and the Palmetto State Poultry likewise showed up after emerging victorious from two-thirds of their earlier road outings (4-2). A close contest accordingly was to be anticipated and, while I was driving home from Bloggerpalooza and the G-Day game (more about both of which in this space at a later date), Georgia won a one-run pitchers' duel over South Carolina.
The first two Gamecock batters in the visitors' half of the inaugural canto registered outs, but Trevor Holder surrendered a single to James Darnell before persuading Justin Smoak to foul out and strand the baserunner. The bottom of the frame began with a leadoff single by Ryan Peisel, who advanced to second when Gordon Beckham was plunked by the first pitch thrown his way following a Matt Olson lineout. Rich Poythress grounded out to move the runners over one more and Bryce Massanari drew the walk that loaded the bases for Lyle Allen, who put the first ball he saw into play for the fielder's choice that squelched the scoring threat.
The top of the second stanza commenced with a Phil Disher groundout, but Andrew Crisp dropped a base hit into center field in the ensuing at-bat and the South Carolina second baseman advanced on a wild pitch before taking third on a Kyle Enders single. An attempted double-steal failed when Crisp was thrown out at home, after which Harley Lail flied out to conclude matters. Georgia had only a two-out base hit by Michael Demperio to show for the bottom of the inning, as the Bulldog second baseman was stranded when Peisel went down swinging.
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Reese Havens drew a one-out walk on a payoff pitch in the top of the third canto, but neither he nor any other Gamecock made it past first base. The home half of the stanza opened with consecutive flyouts by Olson and Beckham followed by a Poythress walk and a Massanari single, but Allen's ensuing strikeout prevented the Diamond Dogs from breaking the scoreless tie.
No batter for either team reached base in a fourth frame featuring five groundouts. The top of the fifth inning produced some excitement in the form of a one-out base hit by Lail and a Havens walk, but DeAngelo Mack and Whit Merrifield each swung at the first pitch he saw and produced an out in the process. A two-out double by Beckham and a subsequent base on balls drawn by Poythress in the bottom of the stanza went for naught when Massanari grounded out to end the inning.
The trend continued in the sixth canto. Smoak's one-out double to left center field was erased by Disher's groundout and Crisp's strikeout, much as Allen's first-pitch single to lead off the bottom of the frame was rendered moot when Joey Lewis and Adam Fuller grounded out and Demperio stared at a called third strike. Each contestant went three up and three down in the seventh stanza.
The top of the eighth inning featured the first pitching change of the afternoon, as Justin Earls came on in relief of Holder, who had crossed paths with 27 batters, recorded three strikeouts, and given up five hits and two walks without allowing a run. The Bulldog reliever elicited a lineout from Havens before surrendering a base hit to Merrifield, who took second on a wild pitch.
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A Darnell groundout moved the Gamecock center fielder to third but the visitors were unable to bring the baserunner home, as Disher popped up after Smoak was walked intentionally. When Poythress put a payoff pitch into left center field for a double to lead off the home half of the stanza, it appeared as though the Red and Black were on the verge of breaking the deadlock, but flyouts from Massanari and Allen got the Georgia first baseman only as far as third before Lewis grounded out to preserve the tie.
After Nick Montgomery walked Crisp on four straight pitches to begin the ninth inning, Joshua Fields was sent to the mound and the Bulldog closer plunked Enders to move the South Carolina second baseman into scoring position. A sacrifice bunt by Lail advanced both baserunners. Fields then struck out Mack, walked Havens deliberately, and struck out Merrifield to keep the first run of the contest from crossing home plate.
Gamecock starting pitcher Mike Cisco had thrown 115 pitches to the 34 batters with whom he crossed paths in the course of the first eight innings. Cisco struck out three Diamond Dogs, walked three more, and allowed six hits without conceding a run. He was pulled from the game at the midpoint of the ninth canto and replaced with Parker Bangs, who faced 30 fewer batters and threw 99 fewer pitches yet yielded the one thing neither team yet had been able to tally: a run.
The box score was all even as the bottom of the final frame got underway, as each S.E.C. East squad could claim six hits, no errors, and no runs. That stat line did not change when Fuller was hit by a pitch, nor when Demperio's sacrifice bunt moved the Georgia center fielder to second base, nor even when Peisel flied out to center field. However, when Olson knocked an 0-2 pitch into right field for an R.B.I. single, the Diamond Dogs had their seventh hit, their first run, and the win.
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This is exactly the sort of baseball game I most enjoy. Two pitchers did battle on Saturday afternoon, neither of whom was willing to concede an inch of ground to the other. No Gamecock garnered more than a single hit and the Palmetto State Poultry's leadoff hitter (Reese Havens) and designated hitter (Phil Disher) both went without a hit on the afternoon.
South Carolina stranded eleven baserunners, as did the Diamond Dogs. The Red and Black also were without a player who tallied more than one hit, but Matt Olson, hitting from the second spot in the Georgia order, put a base hit just outside the reach of the diving Andrew Crisp to get the ball out of the infield and plate the winning run.
The victory enabled the Classic City Canines to improve to 18-10 overall and 7-3 in conference play on a weekend in which every scheduled S.E.C. Friday game except Auburn's victory at Arkansas was postponed due to inclement weather. (I hate Auburn.)
Because Tennessee topped Florida to drop the Gators' league ledger to 7-3 in the first game of a would-be doubleheader which ultimately was suspended with the Volunteers holding a 10-5 lead in the second series outing, the Red and Black headed into Saturday's evening meeting with the Palmetto State Poultry tied for the division lead and looking to cement their position as the top team in the Southeastern Conference.