After snapping their brief conference losing streak with a win over Ole Miss on Friday night, the Diamond Dogs returned to action on Saturday afternoon with the hope of clinching victory in the series to maintain, and perhaps extend, their three-and-a-half-game lead in the division. Although matters looked quite good for quite a while, a late-inning meltdown doomed the home team as the Rebels evened the series.
The starting assignment went to Stephen Dodson, who gave up a leadoff single to Jordan Henry in the initial at-bat of the first inning. Fuller Smith's ensuing groundout moved the Mississippi right fielder to second and, after Logan Power flied out, a base hit by Cody Overbeck brought Henry home. Matt Smith then struck out swinging to bring the Bulldogs up to bat with the visitors already owning a one-run advantage.
The Red and Black attempted to answer in the home half of the frame, which Ryan Peisel began by striking out, although he managed to reach base on a wild pitch to permit Matt Olson's subsequent single to advance him to second. After Gordon Beckham flied out to right field, Rich Poythress grounded out to move over both baserunners. A Bryce Massanari groundout, however, ended the threat.
Michael Hubbard sent a one-out single into center field in the top of the second stanza before Sean Stuyverson sacrificed him over to second, but a Brett Basham groundout prevented the Rebels from building on their lead. Georgia again attempted to get on the board in the bottom of the canto, commencing with Adam Fuller's one-out bunt single and ensuing stolen base.
Despite what Fuller did on the basepaths on Saturday, though, you kids need to remember that you should never steal. This has been a public service announcement from actress Winona Ryder.
After Matt Cerione struck out, the Red and Black left fielder swiped third, but Michael Demperio grounded out to strand the tying run 90 feet from home plate. Dodson surrendered a walk in the midst of a trio of flyouts in the visitors' half of the third inning and the Classic City Canines were presented with another scoring opportunity when Peisel led off the bottom of the frame with a double to left field to even the hits at three per side.
Olson grounded out to advance the Bulldog third baseman to his accustomed position and Beckham was walked intentionally to put runners at the corners. Poythress made the Rebels pay for that decision, parking a pitch over the left field wall for a three-run shot to give the Red and Black their first lead of the afternoon. This was followed by groundouts from Massanari and Joey Lewis.
Zach Miller was plunked with one out away in the top of the fourth canto, but Hubbard then lined into an inning-ending double play. Cerione drew a one-out walk in the home half of the frame and swiped second, but, after Demperio also was issued a base on balls, the Georgia center fielder was caught stealing. Peisel then was issued the third walk of the stanza by Ole Miss starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz, but Olson then hit into the fielder's choice that prevented the Diamond Dogs from building on their lead.
This afforded the Rebels an opportunity, which they exploited in the top of the fifth frame. Basham belted a one-out single to left field and Henry sacrificed him over to second. The Mississippi designated hitter likewise dropped a base hit into left field to score Basham and cut Georgia's lead to a lone run. Power thereafter flied out to conclude the canto.
Power went one for four on Saturday, which should come as no surprise, since it is well known that he is at his best only when he is teamed up with Iron Fist.
The Red and Black went three up and three down in the bottom of the inning. Overbeck was plunked to start the sixth stanza, but the next Rebel batter grounded into a double play and Miller went down swinging. The Classic City Canines produced nothing in the home half of the frame except a trio of flyouts.
The top of the seventh inning got underway with a Hubbard groundout, but Stuyverson followed that up with a single to give the visitors a 6-4 edge in hits. Basham then reached on a fielder's choice, but an error by Demperio allowed the Rebel shortstop to tie the game by scoring an unearned run. With Basham now standing on third, David Perno sent Alex McRee on to pitch for Dodson. The Georgia reliever elicited outs from the next two Mississippi batters.
Following Demperio's leadoff groundout in the home half of the canto, Peisel drove a home run to left field to narrow the visitors' advantage in hits to 6-5 and reclaim the Diamond Dogs' one-run lead. Olson's walk in the next plate appearance signaled the end of the afternoon for Pomeranz, who was pulled in favor of Scott Bittle.
Ere the Ole Miss reliever could face his first batter, the Bulldog right fielder stole second, enabling Beckham to move him over to third when the Georgia shortstop was thrown out at first. Poythress, however, stared at a called third strike to strand an insurance run only one base away. When Power led off the top of the eighth stanza by drawing a walk, Nick Montgomery was sent in to replace McRee.
Montgomery proceeded to surrender the run-scoring double to Overbeck that tied the game. The next batter sacrificed the baserunner over to third, permitting Miller to bring home the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to left field. Hubbard singled to center field in the next at-bat. Stuyverson singled to center field in the at-bat after that. Basham followed that up with an R.B.I. double.
Unsurprisingly, this marked the end of Montgomery's tenure on the hill. Justin Earls was sent on in his stead and he immediately surrendered the double to Henry which plated another pair of runs. A wild pitch allowed the Ole Miss right fielder to move over to third and the ensuing Rebel batter brought him home with a base hit.
Power's subsequent single and an accompanying error allowed the lead runner to reach third, after which, mercifully, Tim Ferguson hit into a fielder's choice to conclude a disastrous six-run, seven-hit, one-error inning. No Diamond Dog made it out of the batter's box in the bottom of the stanza.
The Rebels added insult to injury by registering a leadoff single off of Steve Esmonde in the top of the ninth canto, but Miller reached on a fielder's choice, Hubbard struck out swinging, and Stuyverson struck out looking. It appeared at first that the Red and Black, who had substituted Robbie O'Bryan for Lewis in the eighth inning, would refuse to go quietly in the home half of the final frame, as Cerione singled to center field and was replaced on the basepaths by Miles Starr.
I don't know that he's the Beatle I'd have sent in as a pinch runner, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
David Thoms came on in place of Demperio and, after he went down swinging, Starr stole second. The top of the order then came back up to the plate, but to no avail, as Peisel struck out looking and Olson struck out swinging to end a contest the Diamond Dogs had in hand but allowed to slip away in maddeningly embarrassing fashion.
Saturday's loss was infuriating because there was so much positive about the outing for the Classic City Canines. The first four batters in the Georgia order (Ryan Peisel, Matt Olson, Gordon Beckham, and Rich Poythress) combined for four hits, two home runs, four R.B.I., three walks, a stolen base, and four runs. Stephen Dodson gave the Red and Black a quality start, facing 27 batters and plunking two, but awarding only six hits, one walk, and two earned runs. That combination of hitting and pitching ought to be enough to win you a game in which you carry the lead into the eighth inning at home.
Unfortunately, the bullpen melted down in a way it hasn't since last year's season-ending disaster. Nick Montgomery and Justin Earls combined to give up seven hits (three of which were doubles) and five earned runs to the ten batters they faced. The Bulldogs had more errors (2-0), the Rebels had more hits (14-6), Georgia stranded seven, the bottom of the Ole Miss order produced (Michael Hubbard, Sean Stuyverson, and Brett Basham between them went six for 13 and scored five runs), and that, in the end, is why the Red and Black will go into Sunday's showdown needing a win to avoid their second straight S.E.C. series loss.
The lone bit of good news to come out of the day was the report from Columbia that South Carolina defeated Florida. The Commies gained a game on the Diamond Dogs, as Vanderbilt beat Tennessee, so Georgia, at 16-6-1 in conference play, holds a three-game lead over the second-place 'Dores (13-9) while the Gators (13-10) trail by three and a half and the Gamecocks (12-11) are four and a half games in the Bulldogs' wake. It's crunch time for the Classic City Canines and, after going 2-3-1 in their last half-dozen league outings, the Red and Black desperately need a win on Sunday.