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Georgia Diamond Dogs 6, Ole Miss Rebels 3

Friday night marked the start of the Diamond Dogs’ huge S.E.C. series against a red-hot Ole Miss squad in Oxford and the Classic City Canines emerged victorious by a 6-3 margin. Georgia held a commanding lead in hits (11-4) and the errors were all even at one apiece.

Drew Pomeranz, who just pitched a complete game against the Gators, got the start for the Rebels and his first two pitches to Matt Cerione in the top of the opening canto were strikes. However, the Georgia center fielder put Pomeranz’s third toss to home plate into play and a throwing error by Zach Miller allowed Cerione to reach base and take second. Colby May fouled off a pair of pitches before taking ball four and Rich Poythress drove in both baserunners with a double to right field. Although the Bulldog first baseman advanced to third on a Bryce Massanari flyout, the next two Red and Black batters went down swinging.

The good feelings flowing from this encouraging start did not last long, as four of Trevor Holder’s first five pitches in the home half of the stanza were outside the strike zone, so Jordan Henry was issued a base on balls. Holder’s first pitch to Logan Power was sent to center field for the game-tying home run. Matters could have gotten worse, as Miller drew a two-out walk and Kyle Henson was plunked, but Michael Hubbard lined out to make it a one-hit, two-run frame for both teams.

Levi Hyams notched a one-out bunt single in the top of the second inning and stole second, but the next two Diamond Dogs struck out swinging to strand the Georgia shortstop in scoring position. After Mississippi went three up and three down in the bottom of the stanza, Poythress dropped a one-out base hit into center field, but the Bulldog first baseman was picked off just before Massanari carded a double. Joey Lewis swung at strike three to leave the Red and Black catcher in scoring position.

Kennesaw State fields a player named Kyle Clayton. Jacksonville State fields a player named Kyle Bluestein. Mississippi fields a player named Kyle Henson. What is it with all the Kyles playing for opposing teams lately? It’s really weirding me out. . . .

A one-out single by Matt Snyder produced the only baserunner in the lower half of the third canto and Hyams likewise was the only Georgia batter to reach first base in the visitors’ half of the fourth frame, as his two-out single was bracketed by strikeouts on either side of his at-bat. The Rebels were retired on a trio of flyouts in the bottom of the inning to maintain Georgia’s 5-2 edge in hits while preserving the 2-2 deadlock in runs.

Those figures were altered neither in the top of the fifth stanza---in which Cerione struck out on a trio of pitches, May turned the second pitch he saw into a flyout, Poythress fouled off the first payoff pitch before drawing a walk on the second one, and Massanari reached on a fielder’s choice---nor in the bottom of the same frame, in which no Rebel reached base.

Lewis led off the sixth inning with a first-pitch flyout, which Lyle Allen followed with a base hit through the right side. Peter Verdin grounded out to move the Bulldog left fielder over to second, but Hyams flied out to squander the runner in scoring position and conclude the first canto of the contest in which no Diamond Dog struck out swinging.

With one out away in the bottom of the frame, Matt Smith sent a first-pitch single through the left side and took second on a May throwing error when Miller reached on a fielder’s choice. With one man out and two men on, Holder hurled a called third strike past Henson before walking Hubbard to load the bases. Mercifully, Kevin Mort turned the first pitch he saw into a groundout.

Ole Miss shortstop Kevin Mort failed to take advantage of his opportunity to break a tie in the sixth stanza, as a result of which King Julien banished him from his kingdom until Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and the Private were able to carry out a clandestine operation to get the annoying little lemur back in the crazed monarch’s good graces.

Despite falling behind in the count 0-2, Michael Demperio led off the upper half of the seventh canto by punching a single through the left side. Cerione advanced him into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt to bring in David Goforth from the bullpen and the Rebel reliever extracted from May the flyout that allowed the baserunner to take third. The home team elected to issue an intentional walk to Poythress in order to pitch to Massanari, who worked the count to draw a base on balls, as well.

This brought Lewis to the plate and the Georgia designated hitter blasted a grand slam to left field to give the Diamond Dogs an 8-3 edge in hits and an all-important 6-2 lead in runs. As if it had not been bad enough when Allen added insult to injury by drawing the walk that brought Nathan Baker to the hill, Verdin sent the new Mississippi hurler’s second pitch into center field for a base hit and Hyams drew a walk to load the bases anew. Demperio finally flied out to put the three-hit, four-run frame in the books.

Will Harvil was assigned the duty of protecting the Diamond Dogs’ newfound lead and his first pitch produced a flyout from Evan Button. When Henry walked in the ensuing plate appearance and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, the Georgia reliever traded a base for an out by extracting the groundout from Power that put the Rebel center fielder 90 feet from home plate. Snyder flied out to leave him there.

Baker’s first three pitches in the top of the eighth inning produced a pair of flyouts before the Ole Miss reliever’s fourth throw to home plate was returned to right center field for a double by Poythress. Massanari’s subsequent strikeout brought the Rebels back to the plate for the bottom of the stanza. Although Harvil made the mistake of plunking Smith at the outset of the frame, he coaxed a double-play ball from Miller, so the basepaths were clear when Henson sent a first-pitch home run to left center field.

Since I have been asked to provide more in the way of actual analysis, here is a preview: I believe Axl Rose served as Georgia’s hitting coach on Friday night.

Hubbard and Mort then drew back-to-back bases on balls to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of David Phillips, who grounded out to keep the visitors in the enviable position of needing to record three outs before surrendering three runs in order to notch a victory. After Verdin’s two-out single produced the only Bulldog baserunner in the top of the ninth canto, Dean Weaver walked the leadoff batter in the home half of the inning but atoned for that mistake by inducing Power to ground into a double play. That afforded Snyder the dubious honor of registering the final out of the game.

Obviously, it helped a great deal that Trevor Holder settled down starting with his seventh pitch and went on to work six stanzas in which he gave up three hits, three walks, and two earned runs. However, the key to this game (as evidenced by the previous foreshadowing through the use of Guns ‘n’ Roses) was the fact that all Georgia needed was just a little patience. (Insert whistling here.)

As noted in the series preview by Quinton McDawg linked to at the outset of this posting and borne out by the numbers, the Diamond Dogs arrived in Oxford as the better power-hitting team but also, and not coincidentally, as the squad more prone to strikeouts. What we witnessed in Oxford on Friday evening was impatience in the early going, followed by a subsequent, and decisive, sense of calm.

Bulldog batters struck out eight times in the first five innings, going down swinging in seven of those at-bats. By contrast, the Red and Black struck out just twice in the final four frames. A look at the critical seventh inning makes the point: Michael Demperio fouled off an 0-2 pitch to stay alive so he could notch a leadoff single; Colby May (whose patience in the first inning helped produce the contest’s second run) fouled off a pair of pitches to stay alive so he could advance the baserunner; Bryce Massanari fouled off three pitches to stay alive so he could draw a walk on a 3-2 pitch; Joey Lewis fouled off a pitch while waiting for a ball he could put over the wall; Lyle Allen fouled off two pitches to stay alive so he could draw a walk on a 3-2 pitch; and Levi Hyams fouled off three pitches to stay alive so he could draw a walk on a 3-2 pitch.

Compare that to the Rebels’ sixth inning, in which two batters put the first pitch they saw into play and two of the three batters who got ahead 2-0 in the count struck out and reached on a fielder’s choice, respectively. Ole Miss failed to capitalize on a scoring opportunity due to impatience, Georgia quit hacking away and opted instead to work the count, and that was the ballgame.

Go ‘Dawgs!