The Diamond Dogs dropped the first game of a Saturday doubleheader with Alabama in the season’s first Southeastern Conference weekend set but looked to bounce back in the nightcap to even the series. That didn’t so much happen, as the Classic City Canines fell once again in Tuscaloosa, this time by a final margin of 11-5.
After Colby May’s two-out single in the top of the first inning was nullified by Rich Poythress’s ensuing strikeout, the Crimson Tide picked up where they had left off earlier in the afternoon in the home half of the frame. Justin Grimm walked Taylor Dugas on four pitches before surrendering a single to Josh Rutledge. A wild pitch allowed both baserunners to advance and a walk drawn by Ross Wilson loaded the bases for Kent Matthes.
Although the Alabama outfielder went down swinging, Brandon May parked a grand slam over the right field wall to stake the home team to a 4-0 lead. Tyler Odle afterwards struck out looking, but Jake Smith was plunked, the Crimson Tide infielder stole second, and a throwing error by Joey Lewis moved him over to third before Cody Trotter went down swinging.
The Classic City Canines went three up and three down in the top of the second canto and the home team had only a two-out double by Rutledge to show for the bottom of the frame. Johnathan Taylor’s two-out single and subsequent stolen base represented the sum total of Georgia’s accomplishments in the visitors’ half of the third stanza, whereas Grimm retired the side in the bottom of the inning.
O.K., this getting-the-crap-kicked-out-of-us-by-Alabama-when-we’re-in-the-running-for-No.-1 business is getting really old really fast!
Consecutive one-out base hits up the middle by Poythress and Bryce Massanari in the top of the fourth frame opened the door for Lewis to make it a 4-3 ballgame with a home run to left field. The next two Bulldog batters registered strikeouts to bring the Red Elephants back up to bat. The home half of the frame saw Trotter reaching first base on a single and second on a wild pitch, but his teammates recorded only outs to strand him in scoring position.
Levi Hyams led off the top of the fifth canto with a double and Taylor followed that up with a four-pitch walk, but, after Michael Demperio sacrificed both baserunners over with a bunt, Georgia’s May lined into an inning-ending double play. The Crimson Tide were not similarly inclined to squander their opportunities in the bottom of the stanza.
Rutledge led off with a single up the middle, and Wilson and Matthes followed with base hits of their own to put three men aboard and drive Grimm from the game. Jeff Walters succeeded the Georgia starter on the mound and promptly gave up a single to Alabama’s May. That, coupled with a throwing error by Matt Cerione, allowed two runs to cross home plate.
A Demperio error allowed Odle to reach base and Matthes to score, then Smith’s sacrifice fly brought another run home. Trotter then grounded out and, after Alex Kubal walked, Dugas popped up to conclude a four-hit, four-run inning for the home team. Alabama now led 8-6 in hits and 8-3 in runs.
For crying out loud, is this guy running the Crimson Tide baseball program, too? What is the deal, people?
The sixth frame got off to a promising start for the Diamond Dogs when Poythress drew a walk in the top of the canto. However, the Georgia first baseman was caught stealing, Massanari struck out, and Lewis popped up in rapid succession. The home half of the inning began in a manner that was to Georgia’s liking, with the first two batters notching outs, but Matthes walked on four pitches and swiped second before Alabama’s May drew a base on balls, as well. Odle went down swinging to prevent the baserunners from doing any damage, however.
No Diamond Dog made it out of the batter’s box in the top of the seventh stanza, but the Crimson Tide kept the pressure on in the home half of the inning. After Smith led off by grounding out, the next three ‘Bama batters jumped on the first pitches each of them saw. On three consecutive swings, the Red Elephants produced a Trotter home run, a Kubal double, and a Dugas home run to make the score 11-3.
The hurling duties passed to Cecil Tanner and the Georgia reliever’s first pitch produced a Rutledge flyout. It took a little longer---six pitches, to be precise---for Tanner to extract a strikeout from Wilson, but he did so, nevertheless. The Red and Black finally showed some signs of life in the top of the eighth canto, in which Peter Verdin led off by punching a single through the left side on a 3-2 pitch. Miles Starr grounded out to advance the runner and, when the Bulldogs’ May reached on an error by Smith, Verdin scored.
When Poythress punched a base hit through the left side, Casey Kebodeaux was brought in from the bullpen and he obtained the outs he was sent to secure. After the home team carded only a two-out single from Odle in the bottom of the frame, the Diamond Dogs got their final chance in the top of the ninth canto.
What more do you people want to take from us? All right, fine, Pat Hodgson’s knees were down. Are you happy now?
Zach Cone put the first pitch of the stanza into right center field for a leadoff double, then, after Lyle Allen grounded out, David Thoms sent a sacrifice fly into right field to plate a run. Verdin added another double in the ensuing at-bat and Starr drew a base on balls, but the visitors’ May flied out to conclude the Red and Black’s second straight setback.
Despite tallying a dozen strikeouts while issuing only five walks, the Georgia pitching staff surrendered ten earned runs on twelve hits. Brandon May batted in six runs while going two for four with a walk and a home run. Alabama starter Adam Morgan lasted more than seven stanzas, during which he struck out nine, walked two, and gave up four earned runs on eight hits.
Rich Poythress (2 for 3) and Peter Verdin (2 for 2) were the only Georgia batters to have multi-hit nights in Saturday’s second outing, but, between the two of them, they did not bat in so much as a single run. In spite of notching three doubles and a home run as a team, the Classic City Canines managed to turn their ten hits into only five runs. Alabama, aided by three Georgia errors, produced very nearly as many runs (11) as the Crimson Tide did hits (12).
Let’s not mince words here. While I think we all sensed that a No. 1 national ranking at this stage of the season was more than a little premature, I don’t think any of us saw this coming. For all practical purposes, the Diamond Dogs aren’t 14-2, they’re 0-2. The Classic City Canines came up short twice against the first legitimate opponent they have faced, committing five errors in two games while scattering---truly scattering, seemingly randomly and without meaningful significance---19 hits. Of the ten runs scored by the Red and Black in 18 innings on Saturday, six came on two swings of the bat: Levi Hyams’s three-run shot in the second inning of game one and Joey Lewis’s three-run shot in the fourth inning of game two. The other four were the baseball equivalent of a trash touchdown in the waning minutes of a lopsided gridiron game. On Sunday, the Diamond Dogs will attempt to salvage a measure of dignity from a Saturday that was nothing but an embarrassment.