Following a positive start to Saturday's doubleheader between the Diamond Dogs and the visiting Palmetto State Poultry, the two teams returned to the field of play for the day's second meeting between the border rivals in a game that had the power to settle the three-game series, put the Red and Black in first place in the Southeastern Conference, and extend Georgia's winning streak to six straight games. On a drizzly day in Athens, David Perno's squad got the job done.
As had been the case in the afternoon outing, however, the Gamecocks did not make it easy on their hosts. After the Classic City Canines won the first game with an R.B.I. single in the final at-bat of the ninth inning, South Carolina began the second game with a home run to center field off of Stephen Dodson by Reese Havens to lead off the top of the first frame. Although the next three visiting batters were retired on a pop-up, a strikeout, and a groundout, the Big Chickens held a 1-0 lead at the midpoint of the opening canto.
They did not hold it long. Ryan Peisel began the bottom of the inning with a home run to right field to tie the contest. The next three Diamond Dogs registered outs in succession to bring the Gamecocks back up to bat in the top of the second stanza. Dodson retired the side in short order and the Red and Black went three up and three down in the home half of the frame.
South Carolina failed to produce a baserunner in the top of the third canto, but Peisel dropped a two-out double into right field in the home half of the inning. Matt Olson's subsequent flyout prevented the Bulldog third baseman from advancing, however, so the Palmetto State Poultry were in a position to retake the lead when Justin Smoak notched a two-out home run in the top of the fourth frame. Phil Disher struck out in the next at-bat to keep the visitors' advantage at 2-1.
South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak went one for two with a pair of walks, batted in a run, and was hired by Nick Naylor to serve as a spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies.
All Georgia had to show for its turn at the plate in the fourth inning was a Rich Poythress walk with one out, which was erased when Bryce Massanari grounded into a double play. After neither squad produced a baserunner in the fifth canto, Havens belted another home run to right field after DeAngelo Mack led off the sixth stanza with a flyout. Whit Merrifield thereafter singled to center field and advanced to second base on a James Darnell groundout. Smoak was walked intentionally to get to Disher, who obligingly lined out to end the inning.
The Classic City Canines were sat down in sequence in the bottom of the sixth frame on three consecutive groundouts. Aside from a Gordon Beckham error to put Harley Lail aboard, the visitors' turn at the plate to open the seventh canto consisted of a flyout, a strikeout, and a groundout. A two-out single by Massanari was the sum total of the Diamond Dogs' achievement in the home half of the inning.
Alex McRee came on in relief of Dodson at the outset of the eighth stanza and promptly plunked Havens. Merrifield sacrificed the South Carolina shortstop over to second, but Darnell lined out and, after Smoak once again was walked intentionally, Disher went down swinging to strand two and preserve the Gamecocks' 3-1 advantage.
The Classic City Canines at long last began to assert themselves in the bottom of the eighth inning. An error by Darnell allowed Joey Lewis to reach first, after which a base hit by Adam Fuller and a sacrifice by Michael Demperio gave Georgia runners on second and third. Peisel plated both of them with the single to center field that tied the game again.
Speaking of which, go get yourself a tie! (This has been a public service announcement.)
When Olson grounded out, the Georgia third baseman moved into scoring position, prompting an intentional walk of Beckham and a South Carolina pitching switch. New Gamecock hurler Brandon Todd surrendered the single to Poythress that brought home the go-ahead run and Massanari's base hit in the ensuing at-bat gave the home team the 5-3 advantage that the Red and Black would take into the final frame after Lyle Allen grounded out to end the four-hit, four-run stanza.
Dean Weaver was called upon to pitch the top of the ninth canto and he proceeded to make matters a good deal more interesting than necessary, beginning with the leadoff single he conceded to Andrew Crisp and the subsequent walk he surrendered to Kyle Enders. Lail sacrificed both baserunners over to put the tying run on second base.
Weaver threw strike three by an unsuspecting Mack and gave Havens a free pass to first base in order to reach Merrifield, who flied out with the bases loaded to conclude the second Georgia victory of the day. The Red and Black clinched their fourth S.E.C. series win of the season and put themselves in a position to go for their first conference sweep of the year on Sunday.
Ryan Peisel had a stellar evening in the leadoff spot, going three for four with a double and a home run while batting in a trio of runs. Over the course of the contest, the Diamond Dogs stranded half as many baserunners (4) as their opponents (8). Stephen Dodson gave the Classic City Canines a quality start, going seven innings in which he struck out four batters to offset the four hits he allowed and gave up just three earned runs, while the bullpen ran to just over 29 frames the number of scoreless innings the Red and Black relievers have pitched in the course of the last nine games. It's starting to look pretty good for the home team.