On Wednesday night, the Diamond Dogs faced the Gamecocks in Jacksonville. No, not those Gamecocks, and not that Jacksonville. En route to Oxford for their weekend set with Ole Miss, the Red and Black stopped off in Jacksonville, Alabama, to face the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. Despite being outscored in only one inning, the Classic City Canines fell to J.S.U. by a 9-7 margin.
Matt Cerione drew a leadoff walk on a payoff pitch in the top of the first frame and Colby May drove a two-run shot to left center field on another 3-2 count, and, just like that, it was 2-0. A one-out Bryce Massanari single came to nothing when the remaining Bulldog batters recorded outs.
Jason Leaver’s first four pitches all were balls, the cumulative effect of which was to issue a leadoff walk to Todd Cunningham in the bottom of the inning. Although Blake Seguin flied out, the Gamecock left fielder took second base on a passed ball and Kyle Bluestein blasted a game-tying home run to left field. No other J.S.U. batter reached base.
The Diamond Dogs were retired on a strikeout, a flyout, and a groundout in the visitors’ half of the second stanza, and the bottom of the canto appeared to be headed for a similar conclusion when the first two Gamecock batters grounded out, but Jake Sharrock doubled to left center field and Andrew Edge walked to generate a bit of drama. Fortunately, Cunningham struck out after fouling off a pair of pitches.
After Jacksonville State left fielder Todd Cunningham struck out in a critical situation in the early innings, his character was written out of future episodes and his role as Richie’s older brother was effectively taken over by Fonzie, who underwent a swift transformation from a disaffected loner with a history of commitment issues and juvenile delinquency to a loveable free spirit with a "tough guy" exterior and a way with the ladies.
May sent a one-out single through the left side in the top of the third frame to give Georgia a 3-2 advantage in hits and Rich Poythress followed that up with the double that gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 edge in runs. After Massanari was hit by a pitch, Joey Lewis smacked a single down the left field line to plate another run. Chase Davidson fouled off four pitches before being victimized by a called third strike and Adam Fuller flied out to conclude the canto.
The Gamecocks alternated outs and hits in the home half of the stanza, following up a Seguin groundout with a Bluestein single and a Steven Leach flyout with a run-scoring Daniel Adamson double before Sam Eberle popped up to leave the Diamond Dogs leading by one in both hits (5-4) and runs (4-3).
The Red and Black did not take this lying down, though. Miles Starr sent a one-out single to short and stole second base in the top of the fourth frame. Cerione’s ensuing base hit, when coupled with a throwing error by Seguin, permitted the Georgia infielder to score an unearned run before the next two Bulldog batters registered outs.
The hurling duties devolved upon Tyler Maloof in the bottom of the inning and, after striking out Jay Harrington on a 3-2 count, the Red and Black reliever issued a free pass to Sharrock on four straight pitches and awarded a base on balls to Edge on a payoff pitch to put the tying run aboard.
Maloof plunked Cunningham to load the bases for Seguin, whose R.B.I. groundout scored Sharrock. Bluestein then singled to center field to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead by bringing both Edge and Cunningham across home plate. Chase Hawkins came in from the bullpen to put out the fire but instead gave up back-to-back-to-back singles to Leach, Adamson, and Eberle to score Bluestein, Leach, and Adamson, respectively. Mercifully, Harrington went down swinging to end the disastrous four-hit, six-run stanza that gave the Gamecocks an 8-7 edge in hits and a 9-5 lead in runs.
J.S.U. hurler Jordan Beistline retired the Red and Black in order in the top of the fifth frame. Sharrock turned Hawkins’s first pitch of the home half of the canto into a groundout and the Bulldog reliever’s next three throws to home plate all were strikes, the last of which Edge swung at and missed. Hawkins’s fifth pitch of the inning was sent into left field by Cunningham for a base hit, but, after taking the first pitch of the canto to be called a ball, Seguin put the horsehide into play and was thrown out at first base.
Johnathan Taylor opened the upper half of the sixth stanza with a single through the left side and advanced to second on a Levi Hyams groundout. Robbie O’Bryan punched a double into center field to even the hits at nine per side and bring the Georgia left fielder around to score. After Cerione struck out swinging, May put the first pitch he saw into left field for a base hit, but the baserunner was put out at home to keep the Diamond Dogs operating at a three-run deficit.
Jeff Walters was sent to the hill to pitch the bottom of the frame and he proceeded to strike out Bluestein and Leach before walking Adamson on four pitches. Walters’s next throw to home plate was put into play by Eberle, who was put out at first base to close out Jacksonville State’s first consecutive scoreless innings of the game.
Lewis reached on a Sharrock throwing error in the upper half of the seventh canto after a pair of Bulldog flyouts, but Lyle Allen stranded him there with a three-pitch strikeout in the ensuing at-bat. Walters struck out the first two batters he faced in the home half of the stanza before walking Edge on a payoff pitch. Fortunately, Cunningham fouled out in the next at-bat to keep the score unchanged and prevent me from having to rework the caption of the first photograph appearing above.
A Sharrock fielding error allowed Hyams to reach base with one out away in the top of the eighth frame but Peter Verdin grounded into a double play in the next at-bat. In the lower half of the canto, Will Harvil set down the first two Gamecock batters but surrendered the double to Leach that evened the hits at ten per team. Adamson grounded out to take the contest to the top of the ninth inning with the Classic City Canines needing to score three runs before carding three outs.
Cerione began the stanza in the right way, with a solo shot from the leadoff spot to cut the deficit to 9-7. May followed that up with a base on balls to bring the tying run to the plate, but Poythress gazed at a called third strike on a payoff pitch. This gave Massanari the opportunity to be the hero, but the Georgia designated hitter merely advanced the baserunner into scoring position on a groundout. Lewis struck out to leave him there.
It all came down to a bad half-inning. But for a six-run stanza in the fourth frame, the Diamond Dogs would have won a game in which they out-hit the opposition (11-10), committed no errors (as compared to the Gamecocks’ trio of miscues), and held Jacksonville State scoreless for the final four cantos. They gave up one big inning, and that was the end of that.
(By the way, this is neither here nor there, but the umpires for Wednesday night’s outing were Ricky Armstrong behind the plate, Jeff Head at first base, and Owen Butts at third base. Does that make this the first Georgia baseball game of the season in which all three umps were named after body parts?)