In my opinion, one of the neater traditions in college baseball is the annual midweek series between Georgia and Clemson. Because the two campuses are so close to one another, the historic rivals play one game in the Classic City and one game by Lake Hartwell on successive evenings. On Tuesday night, the Diamond Dogs defeated the Tigers by one run in Athens. On Wednesday night, the Athenians defeated the South Carolinians by two runs at Fort Hill.
The top of the first frame began auspiciously for the Red and Black when Matt Cerione dropped a double into left center field, but Chase Davidson struck out looking, Rich Poythress struck out swinging, and Bryce Massanari fouled out on a full count to strand the leadoff hitter in scoring position.
Mike Freeman likewise sent Chase Hawkins’s first pitch in the home half of the canto down the left field line for a base hit before Brad Miller flied out and Jeff Schaus grounded into a double play. The Classic City Canines went three up and three down in the upper half of the second stanza before the Fort Hill Felines generated a run in the bottom of the inning.
Ben Paulsen led off with a single and took second on a passed ball. Kyle Parker flied out to move him over to third and Richard Mounce grounded out to bring home an unearned run before John Nester lined out to wrap up the one-hit, one-run frame. The Diamond Dogs had only a trio of strikeouts to show for the visitors’ half of the third canto but Jason Stolz turned the first pitch of the bottom of the inning into a single.
Orange and Purple designated hitter Richard Mounce struck out twice and had no hits in three at-bats against the Diamond Dogs at Clemson. He is, however, a fine homicide detective.
Will Lamb reached first on a fielder’s choice, Freeman grounded out to move the baserunner over to second, and Miller notched the single that sent Lamb to third. The Clemson shortstop was caught stealing to leave a would-be run languishing 90 feet from home. The Red and Black were retired in sequence in the top of the fourth frame.
Parker sent a two-out single through the left side in the lower half of the inning, but Mounce nullified that accomplishment by striking out in the next at-bat. A foulout, a strikeout, and a flyout marked the sum total of the Athenians’ achievements in the top of the fifth stanza while Stolz drew a one-out walk in the home half of the canto.
Lamb once again ended Stolz’s time on the basepaths by hitting into a fielder’s choice, but Freeman moved the baserunner over to third with a first-pitch single, setting the stage for a Miller bunt to bring another run home. Justin Earls was sent in from the bullpen and he extracted a groundout from Schaus.
The Red and Black’s elusive second hit remained out of reach in the top of the sixth inning, when Cerione’s two-out walk produced the visitors’ lone baserunner. Davidson stared at a called third strike to end the frame and bring Cecil Tanner to the mound to pitch for Georgia. The latest Bulldog hurler struck out each of the three batters he faced in the bottom of the canto.
The Tiger roster features Chris Epps, John Nester, Ben Paulsen, Jeff Schaus, and Jason Stolz, each of whom seems to have been named after an imported beer, yet the hero of the game for the Country Gentlemen was shortstop Brad Miller, who went two for four with an R.B.I. and is named for a plain ol’ American beer. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Poythress led off the visitors’ half of the seventh stanza with a single up the middle to notch the Classic City Canines’ first hit since the first at-bat of the first inning. The thrill of this success was short-lived, though, for Massanari turned the very next pitch into a double play. Lyle Allen went down swinging to end the inning.
Nester opened the bottom of the frame with a single and Stolz walked on four straight pitches to force Tanner from the game. Jeff Walters was sent to the mound in his stead and the latest reliever did his duty, striking out Lamb with his first three pitches, coaxing a second-pitch flyout from Freeman, and winning his duel with the final batter by persuading Miller to ground out after fouling off four straight pitches.
Walters’s fine performance continued to keep hope alive for the Red and Black, who had committed the game’s only error while being out-hit 8-2 yet still trailed only by a pair of runs. Joey Lewis went down swinging in the initial at-bat of the eighth stanza before Colby May put the Diamond Dogs on the board at last with a solo shot to left field.
Miles Starr turned the next pitch into a groundout on a bunt attempt and Michael Demperio struck out swinging, but Clemson’s edge had been halved heading into the bottom of the frame. The first two Tigers to enter the batter’s box registered outs, but May’s ensuing fielding error allowed Parker to reach base and the Georgia third baseman’s subsequent throwing error on the same play permitted the Clemson right fielder to advance into scoring position. The Athenians now had a trio of errors to set alongside their trio of hits.
The last time anyone involved in Georgia athletics made two errors on one play was when Michael Adams hired Jim Harrick and Jim Harrick, Jr. (Photograph from Associated Press.)
Chris Epps came to the plate as a pinch hitter, Will Harvil came to the mound as a relief pitcher, and the batter went down swinging on a payoff pitch. The Diamond Dogs came to the plate in the top of the ninth inning having failed to tally as many as two hits in any previous stanza and they found themselves facing Matt Vaughn, who had come in seeking the save after Justin Sarratt’s eight-inning, twelve-strikeout, three-hit performance.
Cerione led off the final frame as he had begun the first one, by notching a hit. Following the Georgia center fielder’s single to open the proceedings, Johnathan Taylor was sent in as a pinch hitter and he worked the count full before drawing the walk that put the tying run in scoring position.
Poythress drove a base hit through the right side to bring Cerione home and a fielding error by Parker allowed an unearned run to cross the plate, as well. The Georgia first baseman took third on the miscue. Once Massanari had grounded out, Allen was plunked and replaced on the basepaths by Zach Cone. Lewis sent the next pitch to short for the R.B.I. groundout that plated Poythress before Cone was thrown out at third.
The Classic City Canines’ two-hit, three-run canto gave the visitors the 4-2 lead that made the home half of the frame mandatory. Nester began the Tigers’ turn at the plate by fouling out and Stolz grounded out in the next at-bat. Lamb anticlimactically sent a first-pitch groundout to the pitcher to conclude the Diamond Dogs’ amazing victory.
Clemson starting pitcher Justin Sarratt gave up only one earned run and three hits in eight innings’ worth of work on Wednesday, before his name was changed to Justin Ratliff prior to the publication of William Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy.
One of the marks of a good baseball team is the ability to win games it has no business winning. This was such a game. Matt Cerione led off the first inning with a double and the Red and Black would not produce another hit until the seventh stanza. For that matter, the Bulldogs didn’t even produce another baserunner until Cerione fouled off a pair of pitches before drawing a walk on a 3-2 count in the sixth frame.
After being held scoreless for seven innings, though, Georgia produced three hits and a walk in a span of six plate appearances in the eighth and ninth cantos, which, when combined with a Clemson miscue, allowed the Diamond Dogs to seize the lead. Colby May’s three errors all were harmless, and he made up for his mistakes by fielding and throwing cleanly the batted ball that became the second out of the bottom of the ultimate frame.
Justin Sarratt pitched a gem and did not deserve to lose, but Chase Hawkins didn’t have a bad night, as he allowed seven hits but only one earned run in nearly five frames on the hill. The Georgia pitching staff, which collectively struck out seven while walking two, kept the visitors in the game until they could get the runs they needed in the late innings. The bullpen delivered over four cantos of scoreless relief.
It was good to see Matt Cerione have a good night (2 for 3, 1 walk) and Rich Poythress continues to come through for the Red and Black (2 for 4, 1 R.B.I.), while Colby May managed to generate more runs with his one hit than he allowed with his three errors. It isn’t often a team can go on the road to face a good team and win despite being out-hit (8-5) and committing more errors (3-1), but the Diamond Dogs did it and they return home for their weekend set riding the wave of back-to-back victories. It’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog.