The Diamond Dogs won on Friday and came into Sunday's game in first place in the Eastern Division with a 16-6-1 conference record that put Georgia three games in front of surging Vanderbilt and three and a half games ahead of resurgent Florida. The Rebels won on Saturday and came into Sunday's game in first place in the Western Division with a 12-11 conference record that put Ole Miss in a two-way tie with Alabama and half a game in front of an L.S.U. squad that began the day having won eight straight games since tying the Red and Black on April 20. In short, both teams had more than just an S.E.C. series victory on the line on Sunday and, in the end, the Diamond Dogs came out on top.
The contest did not begin auspiciously for the Classic City Canines, however. Although Jordan Henry lined out to lead off the visitors' half of the first inning, Nathan Moreau thereafter proceeded to surrender a single to Fuller Smith, walk Logan Power, and plunk Cody Overbeck to load the bases for Matt Smith. Nevertheless, Moreau managed to persuade the Mississippi first baseman to swing harmlessly at strike three, then the Georgia starter succeeded in sneaking a called third strike past Zach Miller to end the threat.
After the home team generated nothing in the bottom of the canto except a trio of flyouts, the Rebels came back up to bat in the top of the second stanza. While Kyle Mills led off by grounding out, Tim Ferguson sent a solo shot to left field to give Ole Miss a 2-0 advantage in hits and a 1-0 edge in runs. After Brett Basham followed that up with a base hit, Henry grounded into a double play.
Rich Poythress began the bottom of the frame on a positive note by dropping a single into center field, but the Bulldog first baseman's teammates proceeded to record two strikeouts and a flyout to strand the baserunner. Moreau issued a leadoff walk in the top of the third canto, but Power thereafter reached on the fielder's choice that cut down the lead runner and Overbeck grounded into an inning-ending double play.
The question for the bottom of the inning is, "Which Diamond Dog would you consider the least likely to hit a home run to tie the game?"
The home half of the stanza began with a Matt Cerione flyout, but Michael Demperio drove a game-tying home run to left field to put the Diamond Dogs on the board. This brought the top of the order back to the plate, but Ryan Peisel and Matt Olson were only able to produce a strikeout and a groundout, respectively.
Moreau surrendered a leadoff single in the top of the fourth frame, but the next three Rebels all recorded outs. The same was true of the first two batters in the bottom of the inning, as well, but, after Bryce Massanari drew a base on balls, Lyle Allen put one out to right field to bring home two runs. By the time Joey Lewis flied out to left field, Georgia held a 3-1 lead in runs in spite of the Red and Black's 4-3 deficit in hits.
All Ole Miss had to show for the visitors' half of the fifth canto was a walk sandwiched among a trio of flyouts, but the bottom of the inning began with a leadoff home run to center field by Cerione. This evened the hits at four apiece and gave the Diamond Dogs a 4-1 advantage on the scoreboard.
The Classic City Canines were not finished, however. Demperio collected a single in the ensuing at-bat to give the Georgia second baseman his second hit in as many at-bats from the ninth position in the lineup on Sunday afternoon. David Thoms was sent in as a pinch runner and Peisel moved him over to second with a base hit.
Trust me when I tell you that this one ends well.
Olson attempted to sacrifice both baserunners over, but an error by Ole Miss pitcher Cody Satterwhite enabled the Bulldog right fielder to reach base safely. This loaded the bases for Gordon Beckham, who watched strike three pass him by to record the first out of the inning. Poythress proceeded to fly out to right field, then Massanari registered the single that plated a pair of runs and chased Satterwhite from the mound.
Rory McKean was sent into the game to assume the hurling responsibilities and his first act upon assuming that position was to extract the strikeout from Allen that ended the Diamond Dogs' four-hit, three-run, one-error inning. Overbeck struck back in the top of the sixth stanza, as the Rebel third baseman led off the visitors' turn at the plate with a home run to left field. Moreau retired the next three Ole Miss batters to cross his path.
Robbie O'Bryan began the bottom of the canto with a base hit and, after he was replaced on the basepaths by Adam Fuller, the Red and Black pinch runner stole second. After Cerione walked and Thoms struck out swinging, Peisel sent an R.B.I. single to left field. This drove McKean from the game, as well, and the new Ole Miss pitcher surrendered the base hit to Olson that scored Cerione. The next two Bulldog batters achieved only outs to wrap up a three-hit, two-run frame.
Justin Grimm took over on the hill in the top of the seventh inning and he retired the side in sequence. Massanari walked to begin the home half of the canto and Allen followed that up with a base hit to advance the Georgia designated hitter to second. Jake Crane sacrificed both baserunners over before Cerione fouled out and Thoms struck out to squander the Diamond Dogs' opportunity to put runs on the board for the fifth consecutive frame.
What? Was it too much to ask that the team score in every inning?
As had been the case the day before, the top of the eighth stanza got a little hairy for the home team. The Ole Miss left fielder led off the inning with a base hit and Power grounded out to advance him to second. After Overbeck walked, the Rebel first baseman went down swinging. Miller then singled to right field to load the bases for Michael Hubbard, who grounded out to end the threat.
The fourth Mississippi pitcher of the game took over on the mound in the home half of the inning and immediately gave up a leadoff double to Peisel. Olson was hit by a pitch, putting two men aboard for Beckham, whose home run to left field made it 11-2. Massanari walked following a Poythress lineout and Crane singled to right field after an Allen flyout, but Cerione flied out to put a three-hit, three-run frame in the books.
Naturally, Joshua Fields was sent in to pitch the top of the ninth canto and, with so many excess runs to play with, the Bulldog closer evidently elected to toy with his victim before delivering the knockout blow. What other explanation could there be for the fact that Fields walked Ferguson and, after striking out Logan Williams, he gave up a double to Jeremy Travis?
A passed ball permitted the Rebel shortstop to score before Zach Rutland drew a base on balls. Cullan Kight's sacrifice fly brought Travis home, as well, and, at that point, Fields decided an 11-4 final would quite suffice, so he extracted a flyout from Overbeck and called it a day.
Joshua Fields is so good, he deserves to be given the medal Gerald Lambeau won in "Good Will Hunting."
What lessons might the Bulldog faithful derive from this outing, other than the obvious conclusion that, evidently, the Magnolia State has more Codys, Logans, and Zachs than any state really requires? We were reminded how this team made it into first place in, um, the first place.
On Sunday afternoon, the Diamond Dogs played errorless ball, out-hit the opposition by a 14-8 margin, and scored in five of the last six innings, pushing multiple runs across the plate four times in the final five frames. The Red and Black were productive throughout the order; not only did Georgia's first six batters (Ryan Peisel, Matt Olson, Gordon Beckham, Rich Poythress, Bryce Massanari, and Lyle Allen) collectively gather nine hits, three walks, and nine R.B.I. despite a slow start, but the home team enjoyed good days at the plate from Matt Cerione (1 for 4, 1 R.B.I., 1 walk, 2 runs) and Michael Demperio (2 for 2, 1 R.B.I., 1 run). Georgia racked up four home runs from four different players.
Nathan Moreau lasted six innings, giving up a pair of home runs and a trio of walks yet striking out four of the 25 batters he faced, surrendering just five hits and two earned runs, and pitching out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the opening stanza that threatened to change the entire complexion of the game. Justin Grimm lasted two scoreless innings, also forcing the Rebels to strand three baserunners, and, although Joshua Fields did the unthinkable by allowing an earned run, the double and the two walks he conceded were essentially harmless, as the outcome had long since ceased to be in doubt. One day after letting a game slip away, the Red and Black pitching staff shut the door, allowing only one run between the second and ninth cantos.
What was already a good day in Bulldog Nation was improved by South Carolina's series-clinching win over Florida and Louisiana State's sweep of Kentucky. The afternoon was marred only by Vanderbilt's victory over Tennessee. Sunday's results left the Classic City Canines with a league-leading 17-6-1 ledger in conference play, putting Georgia three games ahead of Vanderbilt (14-9), four and a half games ahead of Florida (13-11) and South Carolina (13-11), and six and a half games ahead of Kentucky (11-13) and Tennessee (11-13) in the division. Next weekend's trek to Nashville looms exceedingly large.